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How to Help a Spouse Care for A Dying Patient

help a grieving spouse

People say that when you marry someone, you marry their entire family. There’s a reason this phrase has been passed down through the generations: when you get married, you’ve got a whole new pack of people to think about and care for.

At some point, one of your partner’s family members may fall terminally ill and require hospice care. Despite your relationship with the in-laws, it can be rather tricky to know what your level of involvement should be. While there is no hard and fast rule for how to help a grieving spouse and their family while a loved one is on hospice, there are a few steps you can take to pitch in with care and keep your marriage strong.

Stick together. 

First and foremost, it’s imperative that you and your partner recognize and accept the reality of the situation. Caring for a sick family member can be emotionally and physically draining, as your in-law will require a lot of time, effort, and energy from loved ones. You and your spouse should make it a priority to maintain balance in your lives and fully support one another. You are a team and should aim to function as one. 

Keep communicating.

In order to stay connected and prevent misunderstandings, be sure to communicate frequently and openly about any concerns, fears, and preferences either of you may have. Many people begin the grieving process far before their loved one passes. Be cognizant of this and let your partner know you are there for them. If you are unsure about what boundaries you are able to cross, simply ask your spouse. By identifying any questions or issues early on, you can fully understand one another’s limits and expectations and come up with a healthy action plan.

support spouse with grief

Be understanding. 

Hospice is all about self determination – doing what is right for the patient and ensuring that they can live their best life possible during the time they have left. Keep in mind that what works for your spouse’s family may be completely different from the decisions you would make for your own family. Be careful about how you communicate your thoughts and opinions about their choices, as you don’t want your partner to feel judged or devalued. Be direct with your thoughts, but at the same time, be respectful. Listen without judgment and aim to create an environment where your spouse can comfortably vent and decompress.   

Don’t worry about finances. 

When it comes to the cost of end-of-life care, couples shouldn’t have to worry. Hospice is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. If you are unsure which applies to your situation, Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care can help you determine your eligibility to ensure your in-law receives the care and support they need. Starting the hospice conversation can be hard enough as it is, so it can bring great relief to families knowing that they can access a wide range of support and services at little to no cost.

help a spouse care for dying parent 

Share the responsibilities. 

Consider helping a grieving spouse with other aspects of life to lighten their load. Small acts, such as paying bills, doing laundry, or grocery shopping, can go a long way. By sharing responsibilities, you can take some of the pressure off of your partner and significantly reduce the amount of stress and exhaustion they may be feeling.

Talk to your hospice care team.

Be sure to take a step back every so often to re-evaluate the situation and identify your family’s needs. Do not hesitate to rely on your Crossroads care team as they can ensure that your family’s spiritual and psychosocial needs are being met. A social worker or bereavement counselor can help a grieving spouse with the strain that the situation may be putting on your relationship.

Making end-of-life decisions and helping your partner care for their parents will be a demanding and challenging journey. However, there are a handful of useful strategies to ease the pain and help your spouse care for a dying parent.

To learn about how Crossroads can support and guide your family during this time, visit our website or give us a call at 1-888-564-3405.


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