Hospice patients are generally aware of their ultimate fate. Those with dementia may have limited awareness, but even they can have periods of lucidity and understanding. Patients tend to come to terms with their approaching end of life. If hospice care is administered properly, the patient is comfortable and at peace.
Family members, however, may be another story. They are the ones who will be the survivors. While the patient will be leaving this world, the family members will be left behind to deal with a whole new set of circumstances. Those of us who have lost a key family member know what a big hole in our lives their departure can leave.
In addition to the sadness that accompanies a loved one’s passing, there may be family disagreements about the funeral, burial/cremation and distribution of belongings. Lingering resentments that date back for decades may suddenly reemerge.
A family member may hold out unreasonable hope of a miracle recovery after medical personnel have agreed that the patient’s demise is near. Another may be all but invisible during this period because he/she can’t handle death. Another may swoop in from out of town and decide that he or she should handle all the family matters. There may be concerns about legal issues, such as who is to be granted power of attorney, if necessary.
In families, large and small, these issues arise. Hope Hospice personnel cannot control nor resolve disagreements. We can offer our input, as we have walked this road many times. We do recommend that certain family discussions be held away from the patient. The stress of family arguments can be harmful and upsetting for the patient.
Hope Hospice offers counseling to families as well as to patients. Stress, depression, anxiety and pre-death grief are common among family members. In many cases, we attend to families and their grief well beyond the patient’s death.
Hope Hospice personnel value all family members and consider family members and other caregivers to be important partners in the work we do. Family members provide significant input that helps us do our job. While we work to make end of life comfortable for patients, we also work to make continuation of life better for family members.