How Hospice Can Help You Make the Most of the Time You Have at the End of Life

It’s never easy to lose someone you love. But ensuring your loved one is comfortable and pain-free at the end of life can help to ease the pain a bit. Finding the right hospice situation for a terminally ill loved one can be an important step in that process.

But, hospice providers say, it’s how you spend the time in hospice that can make all the difference.

“A lot of the time, families spend time worrying about the end instead of preparing for the end,” says social worker Sherri Bickley. She oversees hospice care for Crossroads Hospice in Oklahoma. She says that happens because families are so upset about the idea of losing their loved one that they forget about what’s really important: Making the most of the limited time they have left together.

Hospice is the term applied to end of life care for people whose illness cannot be cured by medical treatment. During hospice, treatment is focused on pain management rather than disease treatment. A team of hospice workers tend to the details, ensure the patient is comfortable and pain-free, and help soothe the souls of dying patients and the people who love them.

“Hospice is about living life as best we can for however long we have left. It’s about honoring the patient, giving them dignity, and offering as much support as we are allowed to by the family members,” Bickley says.

Here are some tips for making the most of your loved one’s final days.

  1. Lean on your hospice care team. They are trained to help you navigate the landmines of family dynamics as you deal with end of life challenges. Having a team of care givers can make it easier. Aunt May might be able to confide in the hospice chaplain, while Cousin Trudy bonds with the nurse and Uncle Bob becomes pals with the social worker. By working together, the team can help bridge the family divides.
  2. Accept that there is no right way to grieve. “It doesn’t do anyone any good to judge or pressure another person to approach their grief (or your own) in the way you think they ‘should.’ There are no ‘shoulds’” when it comes to death and grieving, says Stephanie Erickson, a social worker who is writing a book that encourages families to start early to plan care for elderly family members.
  3. Ask questions. You may have never been through this before, but the hospice workers have. No question is out of bounds, from “What will it look like when Grandma takes her last breath?” to “What will happen to her poodle?” to “How do we figure out what she really wants at her funeral?” Remember, there is no bad time to call your hospice worker and there are no stupid questions, Bickley says.
  4. Encourage the patient to make choices. If your family member can speak for himself, let him. Then honor his end of life wishes.
  5. Exercise your power to make choices. This can be tough for families that have been through a long illness, Bickley says. They have been at the mercy of the health care system for so long, left feeling powerless while doctors ordered tests, conducted procedures and made all of the decisions. But once the hospice papers are signed, families can back that control and begin making the decisions.
  6. Get the paperwork in order. The hospice team should be able to help with this. There are lots of decisions to make, forms to sign, and important papers to gather when someone reaches the end of life. (Download this list of important documents to get you started.)
  7. Focus on the positive. This can be a challenge, but time is short. Try to pause your anger over the injustice of your loved one’s impending death. There will be plenty of time to be angry later. These last days, weeks or hours should be focused on spending quality time with the patient.
  8. Remember the good times. Find a quiet spot to sit down. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Conjure up a happy memory of you and your loved one. Let the love fill you up.

Have you had experience with hospice? What advice would you share with others?


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