ORLANDO, FL—Bathing and Honoring a patient who has died “provides a final positive experience for family members and allows them to begin the grieving process,” according to a report on the practice presented at the ONS 40th Annual Congress has found.

“Approximately one-third of the United States population dies in acute care hospitals,” said Debra Rodgers, BSN, RN, OCN®, CHPN, of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California.

“Although nurses are expected to give compassionate care around the time of death, the literature lacks specific evidenced-based interventions for care after death.”

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The hospital conducted a qualitative study to examine the experiences of family members, all of whom were offered the opportunity to participate in bathing their loved one and reciting nondenominational honoring words following his or her death on an inpatient oncology unit.

As the deceased patient is bathed, the honoring words recited focus on that body part. For example, while washing the feet, the nurse would recite, “We honor [patient’s] feet for walking the path of life.”

Of 149 patients who died, 89 (60%) of family members chose to participate in the Bathing and Honoring Practice.

“Three months after the patient’s death, we interviewed 13 family members by telephone using a semi-structured qualitative interview script,” Rodgers said.

Three investigators independently and collectively analyzed the interviews, which had been recorded, transcribed, and verified. Emergent themes were coded and grouped into categories of superordinate themes, then ranked by number of times mentioned and number of interviews in which they occurred.

Of the 11 superordinate themes that emerged, the top five were positive experience, supported grief process, meaningful experience, honored loved one, and ritually and spiritually significant.

According to Rodgers, the Bathing and Honoring Practice is a “caring moment, caring occasion,” as defined by Jean Watson in her Nursing Theory of Caring. The practice also meets criteria in Domain 7 of the National Consensus Guidelines for Palliative Care.

Further research will investigate the effect of the practice on the nurses who participate and the effectiveness of this nursing intervention across a variety of care settings, explained Beth Calmes, RN.