Patients come to Milton Keynes Hospital for many reasons. Often it is about helping patients get better and go back to their normal lives. For some with chronic conditions, it is about easing their pain and symptoms, so they can live as full a life as possible. Sadly some patients are at the end of their lives, and staff do their best to make them as comfortable as possible, and provide emotional support at such a difficult time. But our work doesn't end there. When a patient dies, that's when bereavement officer Kim Weston steps in.
She helps families get through this difficult time and make sure everything is in order.
Kim said: “It isn't the sort of job you could make someone do, you have to love it. And I do love it.
“A lot of people are frightened by death, but it is the only sure thing in our lives. We plan for weddings, births and birthdays, but most people don't talk about or plan for what happens when they die. Talking about it makes things so much easier for everybody.”
Kim has worked at Milton Keynes Hospital for 29 years. Her roles included ten years as an A&E sister, several years as a ward manager and she has been in her current role for five years.
Speaks with families of the recently deceased is at the heart of her role.
Kim explained: “Its always been important to me to make sure we look after patients properly, and look after relatives properly too.
“How do I do it? I listen. You judge your behaviour from how people react. If people want silence, they can have that. Many people are uncomfortable with silence, but sometimes a person wants to sit in a room with you quietly. But others want to talk. You need to be able to respond to people with empathy.
“While I might feel sad, for the family's sake I can't show it, because I have to be able to give them practical help. I also have to remember it's not my grief. I'm there to support them so their grief is good.
“I had a particularly difficult situation with an 11-year-old boy who died; at the time my son was 11. I realised it could have been my boy in there. I was with the mother and it was really hard to keep it together. When we went to see him in resus (the resuscitation room) and it was like she gave me permission to cry; she nodded at me as if to say, “we can both cry now”. We both did, then she nodded at me as if to say “now we stop”. You need to read those signals, and also let experiences like that touch you.”
When not speaking to families, Kim is organising the practical matters associated with the death of the patient.
She speaks to doctors to make sure everything is recorded and appropriate documents are completed, and spends much of her day walking between wards to get everything in order. She arranges death certificates, and lets families know when they are ready. She also makes helps to collate information when a patient's case is being referred to the coroner, and will explain to families what this means and give them extra support – because the delay of referring to a coroner can make it harder for families to come to terms with a death.
Kim said: “If I've done everything I can for the families, I can go home with a clear conscience. I will always stay until everything is done, and if for some reason I can't finish something, I'll always call the family to explain why before I go home.
“Talking to the families is so important. The last thing I want to hear from a family is “I wasn't told that”. I like to hear things like:
- “The care on the ward was fantastic.”
- “Staff treated me and my relative with dignity.”
- “They made me tea without being asked for it”.
- “They found me a pillow when I stayed here.”
- “My relative was happy here.”
“I pass any comments straight on to the ward. It's always good to hear what the families have to say. One lady sent a beautiful letter to a ward about her mother who was 101. It was about the lady's life and all the fascinating things she had seen and done. It was the most fantastic letter and was very touching for us all. It is now laminated and on display in the staff room.
“We can learn from the things families tell us. We can learn how to support them better. Even now I'm still learning.”