When a patient enters hospice, they need more than just physical relief from symptoms or pain; they need emotional relief, too. A range of emotions and worries accompany any life-limiting illness and may deepen for some patients once they are in hospice. A patient may be frightened of what lies ahead. They may feel anxiety for their family members or worry about how practical details will be taken care of in their absence. And they may even be wondering why the illness has happened to them in the first place. Hospice can provide emotional and spiritual support to help ease a patient’s suffering—not just for the body, but of the heart, mind, and soul.
When Emotional Support is Needed
Hospice caregivers are there to listen and to empathize. No matter what concerns or feelings may exist, the patient is free to express them, to ask questions, and to clarify what is important to them in the weeks or months ahead. A patient may simply need the compassionate presence of a caregiver, or they may have an intense need to talk about their lives and share stories or memories.
Hospice caregivers work with the patient to discover what is most beneficial to them. Some caregivers may engage a patient in exercises that help them express what they’re thinking and feeling, as well as open themselves to new thoughts and insights, such as writing in a journal, reflecting on personal accomplishments or moments of joy throughout their life, and creating art or poetry. Caregivers may also use humor or visualization techniques, or participate in a favorite activity with a patient, to help ease a patient’s mind or redirect their focus. Sometimes therapeutic touch by a caregiver can provide immense emotional release and support for a patient, as well as just being present or sitting in silence with a patient.
If necessary, caregivers are also able to make recommendations for other professionals who can provide more specialized forms of emotional support for a patient.
When a patient feels heard and emotionally cared for, they are better able to explore and acknowledge their very real fears and other emotions in order to find some relief from them, as well as to rediscover sources of contentment and love. They know that they are wholly loved and accepted as a human being and that they are more than their illness.
When Spiritual Support is Needed
For many patients, emotional relief comes from a deep connection to their spirituality, which can be facilitated through a pastor, priest, hospice chaplain, or another spiritual advisor. And even if a patient does not consider themselves to be religious, often the larger questions around the purpose and meaning of life can still be addressed in a spiritual way for the patient.
Hospice caregivers are sensitive to each patient’s spiritual needs. They are able to assess when end-of-life questions and answers are important to a patient, or when spiritual support from a pastor or advisor would provide additional comfort. They are also able to assess when a patient is not yet ready to talk about their spiritual needs or does not feel a particular connection to spirituality.
Hospice caregivers complement spiritual support through personal interaction and conversation with a patient. Caregivers feel comfortable asking questions and know when to listen respectfully. They may even pray, sing, or recite scripture or other spiritual writings with a patient if asked. For patients who may be newly embarking on a spiritual path, hospice caregivers seek to provide a safe and trusted space for those patients to vocalize their spiritual longings for perhaps the first time in their lives so that they may feel a sense of spiritual healing before passing.
When a patient is supported in their relationship with spirituality—in whatever form and to whatever degree it may be—they are better able to access their own sources of inner strength and peace so that they may face the end of life with dignity and acceptance.
When Support is Needed for the Families
Emotional and spiritual support is not just for hospice patients. Loved ones and family members benefit from the same support as well. Hospice provides grief and bereavement counselors for families, along with trained support staff who are there to listen, give advice and help address end-of-life questions and concerns. Hospice also encourages conversation between patients and families about end-of-life wishes early on so that everyone can spend time together in a more compassionate and less worried capacity.