Nurse’s Dream of a Bereavement Suite Realized After Many Years

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Where do families at your hospital receive the news that their loved one has passed away? Where do they go after they have said farewell to their loved one but have to wait for the undertaker and to receive the personal effects? Is there a private space where they can grieve, be counseled by staff or their minister of religion?

For seven years Lee Campbell, a senior registered nurse in the Accident and Emergency Department at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, UK, had the dream of an improved bereavement suite. This dream has eventually been realized. Campbell, who is bereavement lead at the hospital, launched a butterfly project in 2011. A picture of a butterfly – symbolizing the transition from an old life to a new life – is posted outside the door where people were receiving bad news. This serves as a reminder to hospital staff and paramedics to keep their voices down when passing.

Campbell received a national Nursing Times Award for The Butterfly Project in the year it was launched. The concept is now being used in the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals throughout the UK. Since then, she has been fighting for a bereavement suite at the hospital where she works.

The Butterfly Suite, a space providing privacy, peace, and comfort for grieving relatives and friends will now be right next to the medical room where they can be with the person who has passed away. “This is a dream come true and it is overwhelming to know this space is finally being made. It will make such a difference to the families who have lost people,” said Campbell. “We cannot change what’s happened but we can make the environment better.”

The suite now needs to be furnished to provide a comfortable home-from-home atmosphere. Staff at the hospital as well as the community are pitching in to raise the £15,000 needed to equip the room.

There have been many donations. Hospital staff arranged a cake sale, raffle and tombola event at the entrance to the hospital and a local nursery school raised £347. A community member, whose daughter was born a sleeping angel at the hospital, set himself a fund-raising challenge of abseiling from a tower in town despite being terrified of heights.

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“The backing I have got has been amazing and has made me realize it isn’t just me wanting this but that everyone thinks it is needed and a good idea,” stressed Campbell.

Sister Lee Campbell.
Sister Lee Campbell. Image via: portsmouth.co.uk

This story touched me deeply as it took me back to two years ago when my own husband passed away in an A&E department. I relived the experience of sitting on the curb at the entrance – the fresh air outside with the patch of garden was better than inside the A&E – waiting for over an hour for the undertaker to arrive.

I hadn’t thought about it before reading about the Butterfly Suite, but what a difference it would have made if there had been a dedicated room where I could grieve as well as make and receive all the phone calls out of the public eye!

Does your hospital have a bereavement suite? If not, is it something you and other nurses could advocate for?

Please consider making a donation to the Butterfly Suite, visit: The Butterfly Suite Appeal donation page. 

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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