The families' lived experience of bereavement in the intensive care unit

Date of Completion

January 2005


Health Sciences, Nursing




Death of a loved one is a phenomenon that uniquely affects each person's life. Although many person's state he or she prefer death at home, the reality is that almost 60% of all deaths in the United States transpire in an institutional setting. There is scant research that uncovers the families' experience of institutional death of a loved one. The phenomenon of interest in this qualitative phenomenological study was the families' lived experience of intensive care unit bereavement. The purposive sample consisted of 13 persons who participated in audiotaped interviews. Colaizzi's (1978) descriptive phenomenological method guided data analysis. Seven themes emerged from the analysis: (1) shock and inertia, all one's senses shut down, (2) family intuitions of foreboding, (3) hope as a driving force, (4) families' assessment and changing expectations, (5) the agony of decision-making, (6) a surreal death, and (7) lingering memories. The fundamental structure of this phenomenon revealed that professionals' caring and uncaring behaviors profoundly affected these families' intensive care unit bereavement experiences. Based on the current study and previous intensive care unit family research, the author proposes an evolving mid-range theory for compassionate communication between nurses and families in the intensive care unit. This new understanding of intensive care unit families' bereavement experience expands nursing science. ^