Each and every one of us comes from a culture – what is minority in one setting can be majority in another. Not only do we come from a national culture and a religious culture, but a family culture as well.

The bereaved family may be agnostic or atheist, Catholic or Church of England, Muslim or Jewish, Hindu or Sikh. Each group will have its own traditions that need to be honoured by hospital staff. Your own cultural traditions may be quite different from theirs. The best advice is to assume nothing and when in doubt, ask the parents what is appropriate.

Refrain from talking about your own beliefs with bereaved families.

Key points

  • We all come from a culture: our family culture
  • Each culture has its own traditions. Hospital staff need to honour and respect each person’s culture
  • Assume nothing. When in doubt, ask!

Remember your boundaries as a professional caregiver. It is not professional to establish close friendships with parents.

What you can offer is a professional and supportive response in the very early stages of a long grief journey for the parents. Always keep in mind that parents have experienced the most painful ending when their child died. Any other meetings and endings they experience with you need to be managed with sensitivity and clear expectations – not stopped suddenly or avoided.

Offering parents bereavement time with the doctor, midwife or nurse who knew their child, such as meeting after the follow-up appointment with the consultant, can be so useful to them. Planning where the meeting takes place is vitally important. Meeting in the hospital department where the death occurred is insensitive to the parent’s feeling.

Having information about local support agencies and national helplines and services can be invaluable. 

Key points

  • Remember your boundaries
  • Offer parents a professional and supportive response
  • Point them to organisations that can support them
  • Time with a doctor or nurse who knew their child can help parents