Contrary to common misconception, hospice isn’t just about dying. It’s not a place you go to die, and it’s not just for people who are facing the end of life. Because admission to a hospice program may be restricted to patients whose life expectancy is no more than six months to a year, people are often surprised to learn that hospice is just as much about living as it is about dying.
Hospice Is About the Whole Person
Hospice programs are probably best known for managing pain and controlling symptoms in patients with terminal illnesses, and pain management is certainly an essential part of what hospices do. Patients are more than their symptoms, however, and hospice acknowledges this by focusing on the whole person. In addition to medication and treatments for pain relief, hospice offers:
- Medical Care – Hospice not only provides pain medications and trains family caregivers in their administration, but also offers a variety of medical equipment and supplies to make the patient more comfortable and allow her to remain at home. (When necessary, however, hospice medical support services also include hospitalization.)
- Emotional and Spiritual Support – A patient who is facing the end of life experiences a range of powerful emotions. Often, people who express a fear of death are actually afraid of pain or abandonment. Bereavement counselors and pastoral ministers are integral members of the hospice team who understand the complex emotional and spiritual needs of the those who are dying and their families; their job is to assist patients and their families in coming to terms with those needs. With the help of hospice emotional and spiritual support services, most patients are able to find healing for broken relationships, say the things they need to say to the people they love, and prepare for their final spiritual journey.
- Practical Assistance – Managing the simplest tasks of everyday life can pose almost insurmountable challenges for patients and their family caregivers. Hospice volunteers are a true godsend in a stressful time, providing patients and families with companionship and assisting with practical matters like errands and household chores.
Hospice is About the Whole Family
Caring for a seriously ill patient puts a tremendous stress on the entire family. Unending chores, concerns about finances, and the emotions of grief are just some of the things that family members must cope with. Hospice exists not just to help patients but also to relieve the burden on their families by assisting with care giving and other concerns.
What’s more, hospice services for family members continue after the patient dies. While their loved one is living, the family focuses all its energy on caring for the patient and making sure he is as comfortable as he can be. When death comes and the busy-ness ceases, the family is left to face the harsh reality of life without their loved one. Hospice grief counselors are typically available to the family for a year or more after their loved one’s death.
Hospice Is About Quality of Life
If you or your loved one have decided to enter a hospice program, you’ve done so because you know your time on this earth is drawing short, but that doesn’t mean you’ve given up on living. Hospice patients make a decision to forgo aggressive medical treatments in pursuit of a cure, opting instead for palliative (comfort) measures to improve the quality of life for whatever time is remaining. Hospice care provides the treatment and support patients and their families need to live each day to the fullest and enjoy their time with each other as they prepare to say goodbye.
Share Your Hospice Experience
Have you participated in a loved one’s hospice care? What was the experience like for you?