Chapter 1: Strategies for intervening in anticipatory grief and trauma

Promoting family self-care

“I would occasionally leave the room for a brief walk or to get coffee. Texting friends helped give me a sense of normalcy and support.” – Family Member

Families may need gentle prompting from you to take a break. Many people have a very hard time giving themselves permission to go home to get some sleep or to eat a good meal. You can reassure the family that:

  • The patient will be well looked after.
  • You will contact them if there are changes to the patient’s condition.
  • Everyone needs some time to recover their energy to continue supporting the patient.
  • Even a small break from the ICU can help give a new perspective.


See Chapter 2, the Moment of Death, in this Module for more information on how to support a family member who is not present when the patient dies.

Clinician Tip

Conversation Prompts

“I know it’s hard to step away but it’s important that you take a break once in a while. You need to keep up your strength, and I’m sure [patient] wouldn’t want you to wear yourself out. We’ll take good care of [patient] while you’re gone”.

“There’s always a possibility that you might not be here at the moment of death. This could happen whether you go home to rest or if you stepped out for only a few minutes. What would it mean to you if this happened”?

“Is there someone else you’d like to have present or nearby? Can I call anyone on your behalf”?