Human beings don’t like to contemplate their mortality. However, it’s something that we’ll all need to face in the end. Death is a natural part of life – the opposite side of the circle, so to speak. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with, though.
While people will struggle with implications of their own death, it’s often the death or impending death of a loved one that impacts them most. Having a family member enter hospice care is one example. It can be startling and can raise many different emotions, from anger to relief.
It’s never easy to cope when someone dear to you enters hospice, but there are things you can do to make things better. In this post, we will guide you through how to cope when a family member enters hospice care.
Feel What You’re Feeling
As mentioned above, you may feel any number of emotions when your family member enters hospice care. Some are understandable – sadness, grief, even relief that their time of suffering is almost over. However, some emotions come with a stigma attached. Maybe you’re feeling angry. Perhaps you’re resentful. Those emotions tend to get swept under the rug and ignored.
Don’t do that. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. It’s all part of the grieving process and there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. Let the emotion rise and flow through you, and then ebb away.
Just remember – you are not your emotions. Some people find it helpful to take a meditative stance toward these situations. Say to yourself, “Anger is in me,” or “Despair is in me,” and then care for your emotion the way you would a hurt child. Care for your emotion and it will slowly transform into something else.
See It From Your Family Member’s Point of View
It’s natural to think that hospice is “giving up”. However, nothing is further from the truth. Terminally ill patients still have hope, they’re just hoping for something other than a cure to their illness.
They’re hoping for less pain and discomfort. They’re hoping to enjoy their remaining time with family. They’re hoping to explore life, even while they’re dying. They’re hoping to die well in the end, surrounded by people who care for them.
To cope with the unavoidable, try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. This is called empathetic thinking and it’s a practice that allows you to feel what they’re feeling and begin to see the world through their eyes. Once you can put yourself into their situation, you can begin to come to terms with the entire process. Perhaps, you can even find a little hope in your own heart.
Be with Them
When someone enters hospice, they generally have six months or less of life expectancy. Be with them during that time. Not only is it about comforting them, but it’s for you, too. Of course, family members can find these situations daunting and awkward, so here are a few tips to help ensure that you’re able to spend time with your loved one more comfortably.
- Let them guide the conversation if possible. This is called letting the patient “write the narrative”. Talk about what they want to discuss. Follow their lead and be willing to actively listen without judgment.
- Let them be silent. You may find that your loved one is less talkative. There is nothing wrong with this. While someone unable to talk may enjoy simply hearing the sound of your voice, a patient who prefers silence may simply want to sit companionably. Focus on just being with them and resist the urge to fill the silence. Watch TV together, listen to music, or find a family photo album to flip through quietly together.
- Talk about their life. For many patients, particularly those struggling with dementia-related illnesses, this can help them reconnect with their past and even improve their quality of life. Even if your loved one does not have dementia, talking about their life, their experiences, and what they learned along the way can be incredibly empowering. It can help them pass along their wisdom and affirm that they have had an amazing life. You may learn something, too!
- Don’t hold out false hope. While patients in hospice care still have hope, it’s not hope for a cure. They’re not going to suddenly improve, so try not to talk about recovery or being toxically positive about improvement.
Hospice care may not be easy for family members to deal with, but with the right steps, you can cope. And, remember, this is your chance to be there for your loved one, to comfort them, and support them in their final days. If you have questions about hospice care, we’d be happy to provide the guidance needed. Contact us today for more information.