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Family Dynamics: Transitioning From Hospice to Bereavement Care

We talk a lot about hospice care and transitioning throughout the last stage of life. But there is an “after” to all that — for the family and friends left behind, the grief doesn’t stop. In fact, this is when it begins, as you finally start coming down from the busyness of taking care of your loved one, followed by the death itself, then the funeral, etc. When all the rush is over, the sadness and grief really start to take hold. When all the fruit baskets and cards and visitors start dwindling…this is when you will be faced with the raw reality of loss. This is when you will need the additional support. And that’s where bereavement care in San Mateo and elsewhere can be extremely helpful.

But it’s not just the grief you need help with — it’s the sudden transition from hospice care for your loved one, which may have lasted for many months, to suddenly being without the person you cared for lovingly for so long. That in-between space between hospice and bereavement is where many people get lost because they’re blindsided by it.

Starting Early

While there have been many studies documenting caregivers and hospice care services, there’s not much out there to document the extent to which hospice addresses the bereavement-specific needs of family caregivers, says the National Institutes of Health. Serious chronic illnesses affect not only the well-being and quality of life of the patient but also those of the family members. For example, caregivers of those with terminal cancer diagnoses take on significant caregiving tasks, facing other role changes as the dying person is no longer able to enjoy the same level of daily life activities.

During this time, the family members may have feelings of uncertainty, stress, and grief as they help their loved one navigate the end-of-life process. Research reveals how important family-based interventions are across the whole trajectory of the chronic illness, including during the end-of-life phase. Effective bereavement care for family members, then, begins before and during the end-of-life phase in preparation to cope with the death. Good hospice care will enhance the lives of people with life-limiting illness as well as their families.

Hospice for the Entire Family

It’s easy to forget that hospice is for the whole family, not just the patient. It’s never easy to watch your loved ones have hallucinations or watch as they struggle to speak or eat. During this time, hospice nurses and other personnel can help interpret what’s happening, explain it to you and tell you in clear terms what the signs of imminent death are. They’re there when the family members need a break from round the clock caregiving, allowing them to rest as needed.

Even more than that, hospice continues after death — something many people don’t realize. In fact, follow-up grief support for 12 months is included under Medicare. Hospice facilities understand that for many of their families, their journey with hospice is only just starting with the death of their loved one, says AARP.

For spouses, in particular, the loss is even harder to take. While a common life event for older folks, widowhood can be the most distressing life transition because it represents the loss of an intimate life partner and causes disruption to daily life routines that used to be shared by the couple over a span of many years. That inter-connectedness experienced by the marital couple extends beyond the personal and intimate and encompasses the social, emotional, financial and recreational — something that distinguishes spousal loss from the loss of a sibling or parent. Widows and widowers have to learn fairly quickly how to cope with all the feelings, emotions, and adjustments following the death of their partner.

During their bereavement, widowed people often experience deep feelings of sadness and even depression, big changes in economic and social status, increased household chores and even increased mortality risk during the immediate months after the death. For many, this can be debilitating, especially if they have been part of a couple for 50, 60, 70 years. Bereavement services such as grief counseling and support groups can help widows and widowers come to terms with their loss and slowly learn to live as a single person again.

Bereavement services play a big role in the entire family dynamic as well. Losing a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent or sibling that you have cared for day in, day out for many months or years can leave a big hole in your life. You’re rapidly transitioning from spending every waking moment caring for the loved one and suddenly they’re just not there. You may be grappling with feelings of relief (completely normal) to guilt to overwhelming sadness — all in the same day. Losing a child after a long illness is in another category of grief, as parents struggle with the loss, to be sure, but so do siblings and extended families.

Offering grief support to all family members can help the unit as a whole heal, especially during that uncertain time of transition from hospice to bereavement.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We understand the family’s role in hospice and know they need emotional support too. That’s why we offer comprehensive bereavement support services for our families that encompass everything from support groups to grief counseling. Learn more when you contact us today.