Grief Management When a Loved One Enters Hospice

    Your elderly mother rests comfortably in her bed upstairs, while a gathering of family members sit crying in the living room downstairs. A hospice nurse has just made her first home visit and administered some medication to quell a nasty coughing fit. Mom’s terminal illness has progressed greatly in recent weeks, and it’s clear to everyone that it’s “the beginning of the end.” It’s time to begin thinking about grief management.

    The hospice nurse comes downstairs and rests his hand on your shoulder. Thanks to a well-considered life-care plan, he says, “You’ve made the right choice. Everyone will be fine.” You’ve built a great team of care partners — including experts from hospice and other medical professions — and your mother’s comfort is assured in her dying days. 

    So why don’t you and your family feel better? Why is it still so hard? That’s grief in a nutshell. It’s going to be hard. Saying goodbye is never easy. And coping with the impending sense of loss that’ll soon be reality. 

    Grief affects us all differently. Your sadness at the thought of losing your mom is different than your 12-year-old son’s at losing his Gram-Gram and different still from your father losing his wife. Thankfully, hospice agencies provide grief management and bereavement support to families before, during and after death.

    6 Common Hospice Grief Management and Bereavement Services

    Hospice is there to help not only your loved one as they say goodbye, but also you and yours as you navigate heartbreak and other complex emotions that surround loss. Here are a few things most hospice agencies will do or coordinate for grieving families.

    1. Individual and Family Support Counseling

    Sometimes it just helps to talk with a counselor, one-one-one or with your family. You can share feelings of sadness, loneliness, helplessness, guilt or even anger. You may also honor your loved one by sharing their life story: 

    • Raising a family
    • Good and bad memories
    • Accomplishments and failures
    • Life lessons

    Discussing your feelings in a safe environment can help you and your family to make sense of loss, cope with strong feelings and move on. 

    2. Grief Therapy Group Sessions

    Hospice agencies may refer families to group therapy resources. Group sessions can be helpful to discuss strong emotions with other individuals and families having similar feelings and experiences. They, too, likely feel deep sorrow at losing a dear loved one, regret for time lost or common family problems, and guilt or helplessness over not being able to provide expert care at home.

    There’s strength in numbers. It helps to know you’re not alone. (And as an added bonus, you can connect with others to lean on for support and move forward together.

    3. Supporting Young Loved Ones

    Children, adolescents and even younger adults can feel profound sadness after a loved one’s death. Most kids especially lack perspective and haven’t lived enough life to know that death is a part of it. They’re often very fond of an elder (who doesn’t love Grandma’s cookies or Grandpa’s secret stash of candies?). So they can’t understand why they’re sick, dying or on their way to “the Great Beyond.” What’s more, telling them that their loved one is in “a better place” does nothing to soothe extreme sadness seen through the eyes of a child.

    Hospice care agencies and direct support staff know this well. They’ve often helped hundreds or thousands of care recipients and families with grief management, directly or through referrals to helpful resources. Staff are trained to calmly counsel adults and children alike who feel sad that their loved one is in pain, dying or deceased. Hospice may also provide or refer respite care for families who need help in attending to youngsters during trying moments.  

    4. Getting Through the Holidays

    The first holidays after a loved one’s passing are often the toughest. As elders die, oftentimes, long standing family traditions go with them. Your great uncle’s Thanksgiving dinner, Grandpa’s Christmas party or sister’s annual Easter Egg hunt will no longer happen, unless someone takes up the reins to continue or create new memories. But if nothing else, their empty seat at the dinner table can be very unsettling. 

    There’s an emptiness in your hearts. Hospice agencies often continue to provide grief management, support and resources for many months after an elder’s passing. This may come as direct outreach during sensitive times (staff assigned to your care often document birthdays and other special occasions) or through periodic mailings of heartfelt messages or educational material on the grieving process.   

    5. Religion & Faith

    Millions of Americans take their religion and faith very seriously. Many others simply expect their elder’s end-of-life care and final arrangements to align with their faith and traditions. 

    Some hospice care recipients and families have strict codes about meals and medications that may be administered. Some have wishes for final services, perhaps a living wake or celebration of life. Hospice will coordinate a certain religious or lay leader to officiate a service and/or administer last rites. There’s something truly comforting about professionals handling and coordinating care and arrangements with deep respect for your elder’s wishes. 

    6. Memorial Programs

    A hospice patient is not just a patient. They’re an individual with wonderful human qualities and dignity up to the very end. Hospice staff get to know your loved one on a very deep and emotional level. Some agencies honor their life and legacy with annual memorial programs recalling the individuals for whom they provided end-of-life care and comfort during the year. (A very popular one I recall is an annual Tree of Life celebration, during which the hospice organization provides holiday ornaments to families and invites them to place a special ornament on their tree and say some kind words of remembrance, if they wish.

    While your grief and sorrow may take years to subside, it’s nice when others remember your elder fondly and to know theirs was a life worth living.

    We Can Refer You to Hospice Grief Management and Bereavement Services

    Don’t wait too long to discuss various hospice services with your elder, loved ones and other care partners. Hospice is often an important (and necessary) step in end-of-life care. You’ll be happy your loved one can die in comfort and dignity — and that they’ll be there each step of the way with grief-management support and resources.

    If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC has over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning and team building, including hospice referrals and patient advocacy for individuals with terminal illnesses such as dementia. We are happy to provide guide your process in a caring and compassionate way.