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Healing experience for family caregivers after an intensive care unit death
  1. Susan DeSanto-Madeya1,2,
  2. Dan Willis3,
  3. Julie McLaughlin4 and
  4. Aristotle Boslet1
  1. 1 Connell School of Nursing, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2 Patient Care Services, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3 Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  4. 4 Medical Associates of Greater Boston, Natick, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Susan DeSanto-Madeya, Connell School of Nursing, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA; susan.desanto-madeya{at}


Objectives Family caregivers suffer a high burden of emotional and psychological distress following the death of a loved one in the intensive care unit and often struggle to heal in the weeks following their loss. The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to describe and interpret the experience of healing for family caregivers six weeks following the death of a loved one in the ICU.

Methods Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of twenty-four family caregivers six weeks following the death of their loved ones in the ICU. Qualitative analysis techniques were used to identify common themes central to the experience of healing across all interviews.

Results Seven themes were interpreted from the data: searching for clarity from a time of uncertainty; riding an emotional rollercoaster; seeking peace in one’s decisions; moving forward with each new day; taking comfort in the memories; valuing layers of support; and discovering life on one’s own.

Conclusion By identifying and gaining an understanding of healing following the death of a loved one in the ICU, nursing and other healthcare providers have an opportunity to promote healing and positively impact family caregiver’s bereavement.

  • family caregivers
  • intensive care (ICU)
  • healing
  • death of a loved one

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  • Contributors Conception or design of the work: SDM. Data collection: SDM, JM. Data analysis and interpretation: SDM, DW, JM. Drafting, revising and approval of final manuscript: SDM, DW, JM, AB.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Institute of Aging, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.