When many people hear the word “hospice,” they often envision someone uprooting from their family home, giving up their freedom, to go live in a care facility away from their family for the remainder of their life. This was often the case during the early days of modern hospice care, when individuals were sent to hospital wards. The trouble with this was that busy hospital wards weren’t the most ideal environment for someone at the end of their life, and patients were often threatened by potential infections. Ultimately many experts decided the best option was to keep the dying with their loved ones, and to provide medical care as necessary to help them live out their days in the comfort of their own home, nursing home or other assisted living facility of their choosing. Hospice now comes to you, wherever you feel most comfortable.
Even though hospice care has evolved tremendously over time, misconceptions about what hospice really is still abound, keeping many people from receiving beneficial care as they battle terminal conditions due to fear and lack of information. To put it simply, hospice is support. It is whatever the patient and their family choose it to be and includes a range of services provided by a whole team including doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, and sometimes volunteers, all of whom are directed by the patient and their family. This team only has one goal—to maximize the comfort and quality of life for the patient during this challenging time.
The fact that death is such a unique and unavoidable part of life means that end-of-life care should be set apart from other basic health services. It is very difficult transition to go through, emotionally and physically, both for the patient and their families. Knowledge is quite possibly the greatest gift that hospice care providers can share patients and their loved ones. One of the roles of hospice nurses and social workers is to explain what to expect when someone is dying and how to cope with these changes. They are adjusting to a new way of life, a new identity of sorts, in which they are uniquely vulnerable and reliant on others for their most basic needs.
Given that, the emotional and pastoral support are arguably the two most vital components to hospice, in addition to the palliative care, helping the patient and their families adapt and cope with the dying process and the time beyond that. Many hospice programs continue to offer emotional and spiritual support for family members for many months or longer after their loved one has passed. This is a time when once the stress and fear of loss of their loved one is gone, the family has to learn to adapt to life without them.
Hospice care should not be viewed so much as a foray into death as it should be viewed as a continuation of life. It is not about quitting or losing hope, it is redefining the process of death for each individual. Death a multifaceted process for everyone, especially for those in hospice care, so it’s no surprise that it would take a team of unique contributors with a variety of gifts and talents to make this part of life as comfortable and natural as possible.