Bereavement Programs Offer Support For Aging Service Professionals

Aging service professionals are confronted by more deaths than the average adult. Consequently, they must possess the skills to facilitate grieving or have access to bereavement professionals, such as those who work for hospices.

The Pathways Center for Grief and Loss at the Hospice of Lancaster County in Lancaster, Pa., for example, offers a variety of programs for professionals in the aging field so they can better support their clients.

“The more well versed and comfortable staff and volunteers are with the concepts of grief, loss, and mourning, the more capable they will be at recognizing their own personal grieving style and separate it out so it does not interfere with the care being provided,” program director Patti Homan told OAR. “You can not effectively care for others unless you are tuning in and caring for yourself.”

Towards this end, Pathways collaborates with the local office on aging and Alzheimer’s Association to offer forums such as Living with Grief: Loss in Later Life; Caregiving and Loss: Family Needs, Professional Responses; and Living with Grief: Alzheimer’s Disease, based on a teleconference series developed by the Hospice Foundation of America.

Grief is often misunderstood, Homan says, because it has no stages and is not a linear progression. Thus, people need realistic expectations about grief, because they don’t get over the loss of a loved one, they learn to live with it.

People also often do not recognize disenfranchised or secondary grief, as when a divorced spouse dies. A similar thing happens when people lose access to their bedrooms because they can no longer negotiate the stairs.

Hospice Bereavement programs are evolving, Homan adds. Some have begun to provide services in areas not specific to death, such as divorce, retirement and job loss, and they are reaching out to new populations, such as developmentally disabled adults and their families.

Hospices also offer programs that bring together body, mind and spirit. For example, the Bridges Center of the Alliance of Community Hospices incorporates yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong into its classes and support groups, according to Director Barbara Bouton. Meanwhile, September 11th has generated more attention to tragedy and loss. “Hospice bereavement programs … have evolved from a grass roots movement to an integral part of the health care continuum,” Homan says. “Aging baby boomers are … seeking out greater knowledge about loss and grief and are receptive to change.”

Contact: Patti Homan, Pathways, (717) 391-2412,; Barbara Bouton, Bridges Center, (502) 719-8935,; Hospice Foundation, (800) 854-3402,;