Many families insist on caring for loved ones at home upon that person’s diagnosis with a life threatening illness. That is a very very noble gesture and most of us would be comforted knowing that our loved ones would be able to rise to that occasion. The reality is,however, that even the most well-intentioned and loving families cannot face this challenge on their own. Instead of spending those last weeks and months of sharing happy memories, saying good bye, and sharing the love, caregivers have little energy for anything else but the physical and challenging care they are providing to their loved one. The best intentioned families find that they are eventually unable to cope with the physical strain and the roller-coaster emotions of caring for a terminally ill loved one. Many reluctantly turn to hospice when the challenges of caring for their loved one at home becomes way too overwhelming. Hospice takes over the job of care giving so that family members can once again resume their roles as loving wife, husband, partner, parent or child.
What is Hospice?
The word hospice gets its name from travelers’ havens during the Middle Ages. Hospice is the final way station on the pilgrimage from life to death. Hospice care is an alternative approach for providing care to the terminally ill. A person is considered terminally ill when their personal physician certifies that life expectancy is less than 6 months, regardless of their current state of health.
Hospice is a way of caring, not a specific place. The patient and the family are the focus of care. Hospice’s team of professionals understand what a difficult time family members have saying good bye and letting go. They know that every moment counts. They provide care to terminally ill patients of all ages… and their families. They help families affirm life, enabling the patient to live until they die, and helping the families to live with them as they are dying… and to go on living afterward. Hospice regards dying as a part of the natural flow of life. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the perception that ” nothing more can be done ” has often had a devastating effect on both patients and families. But even though the disease maybe incurable, much more can be done to ease the pain and suffering of the patient and at the same time involve family members in the patient’s care “.
Hospice care is usually a formal program directed by a physician. Its primary focus is to support the family in the care of their terminally ill loved one. Its goal is to provide for quality of life, not quantity of days. There are no heroics acts in hospice… just lots of heroes and heroines who face the realities of death and their own mortality every moment of their working day.
Where is Hospice?
Hospice care can be provided in the patient’s home, in a specialized unit of the hospital or in a free standing hospice facility. The hospice team is made up of professionals and volunteers. Hospice care is directed at reducing or relieving the pain or other symptoms of mental or physical distress. It looks to meet the special needs of terminally ill persons and their family members, including respite ( time away) for the family caregivers, pastoral counseling, bereavement counseling, financial & legal counseling, homemaker or caretaker services.
The Hospice team never loses sight of the spiritual needs of the ill person and the family at such a faith-testing time. Working with the hospice team, the family’s own minister, priest, rabbi, imman – or the hospice clergy team member- can discuss with the person concerns he or she might have ( such as fears about the afterlife or anger at God). The clergy can guide the patient in making peace with his or her life, pray with him or her, administer the sacraments, and celebrate liturgies. Moreover, dying in the presence of caring people can do much in itself to reveal the compassionate face of God.
Most families who have experienced hospice care of a loved one will share beautiful and heartwarming stories about their hospice experience and the angels who do the very holy work of caring for the terminally ill with compassion and love. They will tell you that the while the process of dying is deeply grievous, it can nevertheless be a beautiful process when shared with loved ones close by. Death is the destination of all and the dying person helps those around them to see how critical it is to embrace every stage of life, to cherish life, our relationships and the enduring power of love and faith.
Health care costs are real issues during such a family crisis. Every patient is accepted into hospice regardless of their ability to pay. If the hospice program is Medicare-certified, the care will be covered by the Medicare Hospice Benefit. Hospice is also an optional benefit under Medicaid and is covered by many private insurance companies. Check your health insurance policy to see if it covers hospice care.