Hospice Care Can Be Emotional: How to Recognize and Handle Your Feelings

If you have a loved one in hospice in San Francisco and elsewhere, you know just how taxing it can be emotionally — and physically — to juggle your visits with them as well as managing your own life, work, kids and health. It can be a delicate tight rope walk to say the least. It’s an understatement to say that hospice care can be emotional for the patient, of course, but also for the family members and caregivers. Here’s how to recognize and handle your feelings for both caregiver and patient.

If You’re The Caregiver

When a loved one enters hospice, it’s normal as a caregiver to go through an emotional experience that’s very close to grieving. Indeed, time seems to stand still when you learn that someone you love will die. Perhaps you instinctively pushed the news to the side and put on a stoic face. Or maybe you cried and went into a funk for a while. But whether you swung into action or you’re having a tough time processing the news, one thing’s for sure: life goes on whether you’re ready to cope or not.

You’ll need all the emotional support you can get as you care for your loved one. Accept the calls and invites to go out to dinner with friends, take the advice, let people help you with picking up your kids from sports practices, and above all, make time for YOU. Don’t ignore the fears and feelings that are surfacing now, which are better aired rather than ignored, advises Help Guide.

What You Might Be Feeling

Anger and resentment: From feeling trapped to feeling under-appreciated, caregiving stress can really set off your anger. You may lose your temper or say something in the heat of the moment that you immediately regret.

What you can do: If this occurs forgive yourself, walk away if you have to, or take a few breaths to get grounded again, suggests WebMD.

Fear and anxiety: You’re understandably worried about a lot of things: “What if I’m not around if my loved one needs me or there is an emergency?” or “What happens if I make a mistake or the wrong judgment call?” Anxiety is what occurs when we feel out of control, but it’s also a warning sign that you should pay attention to your own needs.

What you can do: Try not to focus too much on “what ifs.” Focus your attention on things that are within your control, such as creating a backup plan for what to do when you cannot be there.

Grief: People tend to think of grief as an emotion you only feel when someone close to you dies, but what it’s really about is a loss. When your loved one gets sick, it changes the person you know and love, which in turn affects your relationship. That is loss.

What you can do: You need time for grieving. You may just need to have a good cry. That’s OK. This is how your body releases pent-up pressure.

Guilt: You may feel guilty that you’re not doing enough, that you just want it all to end, or that you should be better at caregiving and coping. Guilt is a very normal reaction in these circumstances, but you will drown in those emotions if you don’t cut them off at the pass.

What you can do: Take it easy on yourself. Give yourself a break. Try to remember: If you feel like you’re not doing enough, just think about what it would be like if you weren’t there. This will help you see the difference you make every single day.

If You’re The Patient

If you are the one entering hospice, you understandably are going through a lot of emotions as well, some similar to the caregiver and others very different.

What You Might be Feeling

Fear: It’s completely normal to fear death, but figuring out what you fear can help you face and manage it.

What you can do: It may be helpful to pinpoint which part of death you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of where you might die? Are you afraid of dying alone? Are you afraid of the suffering and pain? Are you afraid there is nothing beyond earthly life? Are you afraid of leaving your loved ones behind because you worry what they will do without you (this is a big one if you have children)?

Guilt and regret: You may regret or feel guilty about things you have either done or not done, or perhaps about things you have said. You may feel guilty when you haven’t met your own expectations or when you haven’t met someone else’s. Just remember: worrying won’t ease burdens or improve relationships.

What you can do: Try to give yourself a break. Forgive yourself. Talk to the person, make things right, ask for forgiveness, or forgive others. Let go of things you cannot change. Spend your time focusing on your kids’ future, rather than feeling guilty about the past. Take this time to strengthen your relationships with loved ones. Write letters, record messages or make videos they can watch, suggests the American Cancer Society. It’s time to live the best life you can, while you can.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We can help you through. To get more information about our compassionate hospice care program, please contact us at 888-978-1306.