“Their world stops moving, but the world around them keeps going”

Patient Care |

03/29/2021

Fier Dory Riley 1 Craft

Social workers step in to ease the burden when parents lose a child.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Social workers are involved in some of the most intimate, painful conversations that go on within the walls of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

Nowhere is that more evident than the emergency department, where kids with traumatic injuries sometimes don’t make it, despite desperate lifesaving attempts by emergency care teams.

When a child dies in the ER, social worker Dory Fier is on the scene quickly to assist families who are left in shock by the sudden loss.

“Nobody knows what to do and they shouldn’t have to,” Fier said. “It’s an experience nobody expects to have – in the emergency room especially.”

As we mark social work month in March, we wanted to highlight the work Fier and her colleagues do every day. Not all of it is sad, of course, but loss is a fact of life. And Fier wanted to do more to help parents and caregivers who need support and guidance in those critical hours after a loss.

She came up with the idea of a bereavement packet, filled with resources for parents and siblings.

“We work closely with families in end-of-life situations that come through the emergency department,” she said. “Most are traumatic situations that are unexpected. We might spend six or seven hours supporting them through this tragic time. It’s more like crisis intervention work that we do.”

Rachel Rissot, a registered nurse and emergency department case manager, said while offering comfort and resources to grieving families is not new, having a team at the ready and an established protocol for supporting them is critical.

“Thanks to Dory, the ER social work team now has a collection of resources for families grieving the loss of a child, Rissot said. “I think it’s been super important for our whole medical staff to know we have this resource during such a high-stress, devastating situation.”

Fier or one of her colleagues will sit down with loved ones to go through the packet (available in English, Spanish, Burmese and Hakha Chin) when they’re ready – either the same day or later – to get advice on what to do next.

“I decided to create this packet that has all this information to help parents, giving it to them so they could open it on their own time and access resources,” Fier said, “rather than scribbling down notes on a piece of paper they might lose.”

Information on funeral homes, financial resources, support groups, therapy and sibling support is included, as well as a 24/7 pager number for the social worker on call. A grant will allow Fier to arrange for the purchase of the book “The Invisible String” to be part of the packet.

“It’s a children’s book, but I really like it for adults too,” Fier said. “It’s very sweet.”

Fier, who says working with grieving families is humbling, understands that people are absolutely broken after a loss.

“Their world stops moving, but the world around them keeps going.”

The ED work is hard because she doesn’t always get to see those parents again, but sometimes she does, and the experience stays with her.

“A lot of these families have made a huge impact on me. Those are the ones I’ve stayed in touch with and continue to support. They’re just amazing – their resilience after the pain they’ve experienced,” she said.

“Grief is such a horrible experience, so anything we can do at Riley to start this off in a more helpful way, especially when it’s so unexpected, we want to do.”

In addition to the support the social work team offers, child life therapists put together memory boxes for parents, and further counseling is available through Riley’s Hope in Healing Bereavement Program.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org