Nursing Care at the Time of Death: A Bathing and Honoring Practice

Debra Rodgers

Beth Calmes

Jonathan Grotts

after-death care, end-of-life care, palliative care, bathing and honoring, family grieving
ONF 2016, 43(3), 363-371. DOI: 10.1188/16.ONF.363-371

Purpose/Objectives: To explore family members’ experience of a bathing and honoring practice after a loved one’s death in the acute care setting.

Research Approach: A descriptive, qualitative design using a semistructured telephone interview script.

Setting: The Inpatient Adult Oncology Unit at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California.

Participants: 13 family members who participated in the bathing and honoring practice after their loved one’s death on the oncology unit.

Methodologic Approach: Participants were selected by purposive sampling and interviewed by telephone three to six months after their loved one’s death. Interviews using a semistructured script with open-ended questions were recorded, transcribed, verified, and analyzed using phenomenologic research techniques to identify common themes of experience.

Findings: 24 first-level themes and 11 superordinate themes emerged from the data. All participants indicated that the bathing and honoring practice was a positive experience and supported the grieving process. The majority found the practice to be meaningful and stated that it honored their loved one. Many expressed that the bathing and honoring was spiritually significant in a nondenominational way and that they hope it will be made available to all families of patients who die in the hospital.

Conclusions: After patient death, a bathing and honoring practice with family member participation is positive and meaningful, and it supports family members’ initial grieving.

Interpretation: This study is a first step toward establishing specific nursing interventions as evidence-based practice that can be incorporated in routine nursing care for patients and families at the end of life.

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