Losing a loved one in the intensive care unit is associated with complicated grief and increased psychologic distress for families. Providing bereavement support may help families during this time. However, little is known about the bereavement experiences of families of patients in the cardiac intensive care unit.
To describe the bereavement experiences of families of patients in the cardiac intensive care unit.
In this secondary analysis, an exploratory, descriptive design was used to understand the families’ bereavement experiences. Families from 1 cardiac intensive care unit in a tertiary medical center in the western United States participated. Audiotaped telephone interviews were conducted by using a semistructured interview guide 13 to 15 months after the patient’s death. A qualitative, descriptive technique was used for data analysis. Two independent researchers coded the interview transcripts and identified themes.
Twelve family members were interviewed. The majority were female (n = 8, 67%), spouses (n = 10, 83%), and White (n = 10, 83%); the mean age (SD) was 58.4 (16.7) years. Five main themes emerged: (1) families’ bereavement work included both practical tasks and emotional processing; (2) families’ bereavement experiences were individual; (3) these families were resilient and found their own resources and coping mechanisms; (4) the suddenness of a patient’s death influenced families’ bereavement experiences; and (5) families’ experiences in the intensive care unit affected their bereavement.
This study provided insight into the bereavement experiences of families of patients in the cardiac intensive care unit. These findings may be useful for professionals working with bereaved families and for cardiac intensive care units considering adding bereavement support.