The Hospice Care Option
Mrs. Susan Fink, Volunteer Coordinator at Holy Family Memorial Hospice, Manitowoc, WI
“When is he going to get to it? Someone has to talk to Mom about dying!”
Such was a part of a conversation I recently had with a friend. No one (the patient, her daughter, spouse, doctor, pastor, or friends) wanted to use the “D” word. Although the swallowing problems, weight loss and other signs of decline were obvious, no one wanted to be the first one to discuss what everyone was thinking.
Bringing Up the “H” Word
Hospice is not a place but a program of care. It does not hasten death but rather adds quality of life to the patient’s final days. Because of its many benefits, it is comforting to discuss the hospice option at any time. The earlier a terminally-ill person enrolls in hospice care, the more a client and caregivers can take advantage of:
- specialized pain and respite care,
- Medicare or private insurance coverage,
- information on the dying process and comfort measures, and
- control (autonomy) over daily living options.
A few generations ago it was common for grandparent to reside, become ill, and die in the family home. Today the very thing each of us needs to prepare for (death) seems impolite to bring up! Often the patient thinks they are protecting the feelings of a loved one by not referring to their death, and vice versa. One goal of hospice care is to encourage these important conversations with terminally-ill individuals and their family. The social worker and other members of the hospice team gently guide the process of resolving unfinished emotional business, expressing feelings, and saying the final goodbyes.
A reputable hospice supports their clients” faith by: encouraging contact with their pastor and congregation, offering chaplain assistance, and providing volunteers to read Scripture and other spiritual resources* as requested. They do not take the place of the family’s spiritual mentor (if they have one), but do enable ways of strengthening or reaffirming their faith connections.
Myths and Misconceptions
Although 70 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, only about 25 percent do so. Hospice care works to provide this option for any life-limiting illness at any age. As a family-centered concept of care, hospice focuses as much on the grieving family as on the dying patient.
After realizing all the advantages of hospice, people wonder why they haven’t learned about it before. Many people instead hear the following MYTHS:
- A person will not be admitted to hospice until he is close to death. (FALSE)
- Patients are discharged if they don’t die within six months. (FALSE)
- Hospice Care is expensive. (FALSE)
- Choosing hospice requires that you stop all medical treatment. (FALSE)
- It’s only for people and families who are ready to accept death. (FALSE)
- Hospice means giving up. (FALSE)
Hospice = Hope
The truth is that hospice is the “something more” that can be done when the illness cannot be cured. When death is in sight, there are two options: submit without hope or live life as fully as possible until the end. The medical director, team leader, nurses, CNAs, social worker, chaplain, volunteer coordinator, and volunteers that make up a hospice program are compassionate about what they do: providing quality comfort care when it matters most.
A spiritual resource recommended by hospice families are the devotional books written by Reverend Richard E. Lauersdorf: Help Me, Lord: Comfort as I prepare for my loved one’s death, and God’s Children Never Die: Comfort as I face the end of my life (Northwestern Publishing House).