Grief Management After a Nurse's Death

Judy E. Davidson, DNP, RN, MCCM, FAAN; Rachael Accardi, MA, LMFT; Courtney Sanchez, LCSW; Sidney Zisook, MD


Am Nurs Journal. 2019;14(11):30-32, 47. 

In This Article

Emotional Process Debriefing

In collaboration with the deceased nurse's unit manager, the team therapist schedules an emotional pro cess debriefing (separate from the memorial service) to include nurses, physicians, and other disciplines. During the debriefing, participants are encouraged to share their feelings. The therapist moderates the discussion, validates participants' emotions, and builds the shared vision that no one in the group is alone, and that their pain is shared. A short evaluation is conducted at the end. The number of debriefings and participants is tracked, but no sign-in sheets or names are collected. We know from evaluations that participants value the opportunity to vent feelings during these caring events.

If demand exceeds the designated bereavement therapists' capacity, volunteers from the bereavement team (palliative care, psychiatry, social services, chaplaincy, wellness committee) may need to be activated.

JIT Grief Training

Offer just-in-time (JIT) grief training to managers, which takes about an hour. Provide hints and advice for about 15 minutes, ask the managers what they've been experiencing and seeing, and answer questions about how to handle situations. Then review when grief counseling should be escalated to formal therapy; for example, when staff share thoughts of self-harm, grief prevents work, or thoughts about the death or deceased can't be quieted. Provide the managers with the bereavement team phone number, employee assistance phone numbers, and the National Suicide Prevention Help-line number (1-800-273-TALK). If the employee died by suicide, share the "After a suicide: A toolkit for physician residency/fellowship programs" ( The toolkit was designed for medical trainees but it's directly applicable to nursing.