October 19

End-of-Life Planning: A Guide for Hospice Patients and Family Members

Shining Light Hospice

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We tend to shy away from thinking about our inevitable end. While that’s natural, it’s unfortunate, as our resistance to thinking about death often means that end-of-life planning doesn’t occur. This can be terrible, particularly for terminally ill patients.

Instead, patients, their family members, and their caregivers need to come together. End-of-life planning helps ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of treatments and care, medical orders such as DNRs, and what the patient’s wishes might be. Of course, it can be immensely challenging to help someone plan the end of their life, but these tips can help.

Plan Now

The first tip is also the most important – take care of end-of-life planning now, not later. It’s tempting to put it off. After all, even with a terminal diagnosis, there’s still so much to do and plenty of time.

Putting off planning even for a little while is a mistake. A terminally ill patient’s condition can worsen very quickly, leaving them unresponsive and unable to share their wishes. Time is of the essence right now, so plan early. This includes everything from their wishes in terms of care to memorial services, cemetery plots, and so much more.

Handle Legal Documents Now

During the planning process, it’s also important to begin getting legal documents squared away. There will be several needed in most cases. Obviously, there must be a will (except if a surviving spouse is inheriting, but even then a will is highly recommended).

Also, there may need to be an advance directive, which spells out the patient’s wishes in terms of things like resuscitation, artificial feeding/liquids, and more. A power of attorney and a living will are both parts of the advance directive and help ensure that the patient’s wishes are followed even if they’re unable to make decisions for themselves. Decide now who will be the patient’s representative responsible for carrying out those wishes.

Do What They Would Have Wanted

Often, end-of-life planning is overlooked until a patient is no longer able to participate. In this instance, those decisions fall to the family. If the patient was unable to designate a decision-maker, you will need to come to an agreement together.

This can be incredibly challenging, as everyone will feel that they know what would be best for the patient. Try to do what you know or feel the patient would have wanted. Don’t let your own fears and worries override what you know they would have decided. If necessary, make a list of conversations in which the patient expressed their wishes or desires in this sort of situation. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes and make your decisions from that vantage point.

Deal with Conflicts

A loved one’s approaching end of life can open up deep wounds between family members. The stress and grief that naturally result from an impending loss drive wedges between you. Take time now to address those, deal with them, and begin to heal the hurts caused by callous words said in pain. Think of how your stress and conflict will affect your loved one and its impact on their emotional and mental health. Think of the lasting schisms these conflicts can create after your loved one has passed. Deal with conflicts now and begin the healing process.

Include Children If Possible

Our natural reaction is to shelter children from death, but that does them an incredible disservice. It also robs both them and the patient of precious time to be with one another. Involve children in the hospice process as much as possible. Doing so can help them learn what is going on and avoid the traumatic impact and deep effects of struggling with situations they don’t understand.

Designate a Decision-Maker

While the patient can be the primary decision-maker, there may come a time when they are unable to act as such. In that case, your family needs to agree on a single individual who will coordinate things like hospice care, as well as other end-of-life planning elements. Of course, this can be a lot for a single person to bear, so the entire family needs to be ready to pitch in and help the decision-maker with vital tasks.

Celebrate

This tip might sound odd, but it’s crucial. Celebrate with the patient. Celebrate their life and the family. Even if they’re unable to respond, take time to talk to them about the past, about current events, and generally just be together. Provide comfort – it’s what family is about, after all.

The Help You Need

The decision to enter hospice is never an easy one, and making an informed decision is critical. Contact us today for more information about hospice care, end-of-life planning, and other important elements during this time.

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