Healing Families at the End of Life
Tolstoy famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is never more true than at the end of life. This is often when family issues that have been hidden come bursting out because it’s such a stressful time. Crossroads Hospice Support Services team members are there to help with families healing, if this occurs.
The social worker and chaplain assess how they can best help a family cope during this difficult time from the very first meeting, although problems may not become evident until after they’ve gained the trust of the patient and their family.
As a social worker with Crossroads, I have often assured caregivers who are upset that issues are rearing their ugly heads now, but this is exactly the time to allow space for these emotional family wounds to be healed. For example, one of my patients came on hospice after a very sudden degenerative disease struck. His relatives were in disbelief that this had happened, and did not want to assist with caregiving because they believed the patient should “just be able to get out the bed and walk.” This led to deep resentment between the patient and his wife, and the patient’s family members.
In order to help this family heal, we had a family meeting with all the family members present, as well as the Crossroads nurse, social worker, chaplain and home health aide. The nurse and the aide provided the family with facts about what was happening to their loved one medically. As the social worker, I was able to hear both the patient and his wife, and the patient’s family members. I was then able to act as a neutral person in the conversation and translate what was being said, so both sides felt heard.
Finally, the chaplain and I empowered all the family members to come up with a plan for how family outside the home could assist the caregiver. We also worked with the family members to accept that even though their beliefs about what was going on were very different, the important thing was to help their loved one get through this time. Helping families accept that they may have different points of view is key to how your social worker and chaplain can assist families in healing at the end-of-life.
The hospice journey is individual to patients and each of their family members. No one goes through this journey the same way. The hospice team supports the family in the way that works best for them, while providing the best care possible for their loved one.
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