As far as final wishes go, “getting everyone in the family to come together” is a good one, and it’s not uncommon to hear this from residents of Mt. Vernon and elsewhere who are receiving hospice care.
Some people, at this time of their life, may already have many dear friends and family members surrounding them who do a good job of rallying around them and supporting them until the end.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care has also worked with some patients who are more independent who don’t have this close or as strong of a network. They may have more strained relationships with their immediate family, or loved ones may live all around the country.
Mixed marriages may create different groups of natural step-siblings here and there. Large extended families also may lead to some siblings and their families setting up lives in different communities. There also could be all sorts of grudges, things said or not said years before, or painful memories and tension that can linger for years, even decades.
But someone toward the end of their life might like the opportunity to reconnect with people who were previously important in their lives, but not necessarily re-live past pains and tension. Likewise, these same family members may decide that it’s the right time to pay a visit anyway since it might be the last time to interact with someone.
Although everyone involved may like the idea of getting together at least one more time, actually making it happen can cause some anxiety. People may worry about what to say, what not to say, what subjects to avoid, and how to bridge any gaps in communicating over time.
This is all normal in these situations, says VeryWellHealth. Because most of us aren’t familiar with death, we aren’t sure what to say or do. Add to this family dynamics or past relationships, and it can increase the uncertainty.
The good news is that just being there is appreciated.
Some other tips to consider when visiting:
- Let the person receiving hospice care lead the conversation. Maybe they want to hear about your life. Maybe they want to talk about sports. Maybe they want to talk about memories. Let them set the pace.
- It’s OK to talk about death. They’ve been thinking about it, either the process or what’s beyond. They’re definitely aware of what’s ahead so may want to talk about it or hear your perspective. They also may have learned things that they never gave thought to, such as estate planning or funeral arrangements.
- Enjoy the silence. The meeting doesn’t have to be a gab-fest. If someone doesn’t have a lot of energy they may want to hear you talk for a while or even take a nap and you can resume the conversation later. He or she simply may enjoy having you there.
- Respect their beliefs. The AARP suggests keeping this in mind since everyone’s spirituality is a little different and unique, and while some people may feel certain what’s happening next, others aren’t sure or may believe differently and may not appreciate someone telling them what to expect. Unless you’re certain of someone’s faith, even saying “I’ll pray for you” might make them uncomfortable.
- Bring a group. You don’t have to invite a crowd but having a few visitors at a time might be fun for everyone.
- Don’t dwell too much on the past. Some of these final conversations could be therapeutic especially if older issues and grudges are discussed and even apologized for. But they also shouldn’t be forced or take priority in the discussions.
- Be ready to prompt. Someone at the end of their life may forget some details, especially if dementia is involved. They may enjoy having you there but may not remember details from the past.
Be ready to listen and to forgive. If you’ve been unhappy with past grievances, they likely have too. And if they apologize, accept it to help give them peace.
Setting up a meeting
Getting to this stage to meet with a family member receive hospice might take some effort and even multiple people involved. But it can be rewarding to put it together.
- Check with a caregiver first. Instead of just dropping by, check with their caregiver, spouse, child or home health aide about the optimal time to come by. Some people may have more energy in the morning or the evening. They can also provide a good summary of their current condition.
- Notify others. Perhaps several siblings can come for a week or a weekend and take turns visiting.
- Find a go-between. If there has been past relationship challenges and tense interactions in past visits, consider working with someone neutral to arrange the visit or even set some ground rules. Perhaps a sibling, parent, or child who gets along with everyone can play a part in getting people to connect.Overall, the American Cancer Society sums up these visits well: “listen from your heart” and that way everyone can benefit.