Many hands support grieving family after tragic loss

Many hands support grieving family after tragic loss

The early-morning phone call was a surprise, even from one of Wendy’s closest friends.

Wendy and her husband, Todd, have been close friends with two other couples for more than 30 years. Even when Wendy’s family moved out of state for many years, they easily renewed their friendships when they returned to Pocatello. The three couples cherished their friendships and enjoyed each other’s company, often going out to dinner together a few times a month. 

When Wendy learned that one of her friends had suffered a medical emergency and did not survive, she made plans to meet the other friends at Portneuf Medical Center to console the surviving spouse.

“When we arrived at the Emergency Department, they allowed us to go back to the treatment room where our friend, their children and the deceased were present,” said Wendy. “The Emergency Department nurse, Wendy Higbee was so kind and caring to our friends. She helped them fill out the organ donor paperwork and coordinated information with the funeral home.”

The level of care and attention provided by Higbee and the Emergency Department staff during a time of crisis was something that Wendy had never experienced before.

“Throughout the morning, nurse Higbee kept returning to the room and gently checking to see if the family needed anything. I think she was exceptional, providing excellent care and empathy during a very stressful situation,” Wendy said.

Fingerprints and molds help the grieving process

But the care and attention for the family did not stop there. Higbee called her co-worker Michelle Ferguson, the nurse supervisor in the Labor and Delivery Department, which often makes ink prints of newborn babies’ hands and feet. She described the situation to Ferguson and asked her to come down and talk to the family about making ink prints of the deceased.

“When I got the call from the Emergency Department, they asked me if I would do ink prints of a patient's hand who had died,” said Ferguson. “When I arrived in the room it was obvious that the death was unexpected. My first thought was, ‘How would I want my own family or even myself treated in the same situation?’” she said.

Ferguson said that every situation is different and that it is her job to never judge people in a tragic situation.

“I try to read the room and know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I have learned that any significant change in a person’s life can produce grief and feelings of loss. The loss of a job, loss of body functions, loss of a limb, loss of a pet, loss of control, and loss of a loved one – all deserve support and compassion. It is our job to provide that support, knowing that what they need will be different in each case,” she said.

Wendy also noticed nurse Ferguson’s caring demeanor when she arrived to talk to the family.

“I could tell that she cared deeply for the family,” said Wendy. “When she walked into the room, she smiled and sat down next to my friend. She talked about inking the fingerprints of the family member’s hand. Then she mentioned that they could even make a mold of their two hands.”

When Ferguson described the process, the family mentioned how the couple would hold hands by interlocking their pinky fingers. Though it took a little customization, the team that produced the mold was able to deliver the final design, complete with details on how the hands looked together.

“The thing that made the biggest impression to me,” said Wendy, “happened the evening after the funeral service of our friend. I was at their house, helping to return photos and other items they had displayed at the funeral service.

“It was early evening when I saw nurse Ferguson arrive at the house to deliver the finished mold of the two hands. It was just so special for my friend. Nurse Ferguson went above and beyond what I expected when she came after work to deliver the hands,” said Wendy. “She hugged my friend and said to call her anytime, day or night, if she needed anything.”

For Ferguson, it was the right thing to do.

“The molds take a few days to dry and then prepare for delivery,” explained Ferguson. “When a family has experienced a traumatic event, the last thing they want to do is return to the place where the event occurred. This family had gone through so much after the loss of a loved one that the last thing I wanted to do was add to their list of obligations and decisions. With every family, I try to do what is most convenient for them.”

Delivering the molds is equally important to Ferguson. “Getting these molds to the families as soon as possible was important, as the molds will provide some comfort to them as they grieve,” she said.

“I have watched families touch these molds and trace their fingers along the creases of the molded hand. Families will cry, smile, and sometimes laugh as they point out every callous or identifying feature of their loved one's hand, which then helps them recall special memories. It is indeed an honor for me to be a small part in helping a family grieve after the loss of a loved one.”

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