Losing a loved one in the intensive care unit can be challenging for families. Providing bereavement support may assist in the grieving process.


To describe family members’ experiences with bereavement after the death of a loved one in the intensive care unit.


This secondary analysis used an exploratory, descriptive design to study family members’ experiences with bereavement. Family members of patients from 2 intensive care units in a tertiary medical center in the western United States participated. Audiotaped telephone interviews using a semistructured questionnaire were conducted. A qualitative, descriptive technique was used for data analysis. Two independent raters coded transcripts of audiotaped interviews with family members about their bereavement experiences.


Seventeen family members participated in the study. Most participants were female (n = 12; 71%) and spouses of deceased patients (n = 14; 82%), and their mean (SD) age was 62.4 (10.0) years. Three themes emerged: (1) bereavement was an individual experience; (2) situations occurring during the intensive care unit encounter remained significant for family members beyond a year after the death; and (3) social, cultural, spiritual, and religious events after the death hold importance for families of patients in the intensive care unit.


Bereavement is a challenging experience for families of deceased intensive care unit patients. The themes identified in this study add insight into the experiences of these family members. The results of this study may guide future interventions to help support bereaved families of intensive care unit patients.

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