Category

For Caregivers & Families

Man looking out window, friend places comforting hand on shoulder

Self-Care Recommendations When Someone You Love is Dying

By For Caregivers & Families No Comments

If you have a friend or loved one who is dying, you’re likely dealing with a lot of feelings right now: sadness, shock, disbelief, anger, anxiety. It’s normal to experience these emotions, and you have every right to feel the way you do. As you juggle your own grief with the need to be there, physically and emotionally, for your friend or loved one, you will need to care for yourself and realize that you can’t do it all on your own. Below, we will discuss 6 self-care recommendations that will help you tend to yourself and stay emotionally stable as you care for your friend or loved one in their final days.

1. Share Your Feelings

Someone you care deeply about is dying and will soon be gone. Odds are, you will also need support as you explore your own feelings about this illness and the changes you see in your friend or loved one. Find someone who will listen to you without judgment as you talk out your own feelings. To stay available to your loved one, you need to be able to work through your own feelings. Do this with someone you trust.

Grief support group with five people

Additionally, many hospices offer support groups for friends and family of the dying—both before and after the death itself. Take advantage of these compassionate resources.

2. Care for Your Body

Visiting or caring for a terminally ill person will zap a lot of your energy – both mental and physical. To make the most of the time you have left with your loved one, you need to make sure you aren’t running yourself ragged. Make sure to eat nutritious meals. Get plenty of rest. Continue to exercise. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Take a break from the sick room.

Nutritious meal with grilled chicken, tomatoes, and green salad

If you’re a primary caregiver, it may feel counter-intuitive or just plain wrong to take time away for self-care or to enjoy simple activities, but you will need these times to help you stay afloat. No one can sustain continuous stress, anxiety, and sadness without starting to crack. Adding a few self-care habits will help you keep it together and have the energy you need to be fully present with your loved one. Self-care has become more and more valued in our society, so make sure to take the time to do it.

3. Realize Your Own Limitations

It’s important to realize that not everyone can offer ongoing support to someone who is dying. If you feel you simply can’t cope with the situation, try to understand your reticence and learn from it. Ask yourself, “Why am I so uncomfortable with this?” and “What can I do to become more open and compassionate in times of need?”

Do not, however, avoid your friend or loved one altogether. Phone rather than visit. Write a letter or email if you can’t bring yourself to phone. Let them know that this situation is difficult for you while at the same time acknowledging that your friend or loved one’s fears and needs come first.

On the other end of the helping spectrum, don’t become obsessed with the illness or feel that you must be your loved one’s only means of support. Do not emotionally overburden yourself.

4. Establish a Routine

After a terminal diagnosis, everything may feel out of control. Your routine is upset. You are suddenly dealing with events, people, and emotions you didn’t expect. Your life has lost its normalcy and has been thrown into disarray. By establishing a routine, you can begin to gain back some of the normalcy and control you lost. When you feel comfortable in your routine, you can begin to process what’s happened and learn how to deal with and manage your feelings.

Man writing in day planner

Additionally, establishing a routine will help your dying friend or loved one. They also need structure to rely on, as their life has been thrown into just as much, if not more, disarray than yours. If you are a close caregiver, establish a routine together. If you are more on the periphery, make sure to communicate your wish to visit on a regular basis and find a time that works best for both of you.

5. Embrace Your Own Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you during this difficult time. Pray with your friend or loved one and with their family. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. Read spiritual verses or poems. Sing songs. Find the comfort that your faith can bring to the hard seasons of life.

Woman praying in a religious building

If you are angry at God because of your loved one’s illness, that’s okay. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore. It’s normal to have questions or doubts when faced with death, but as you embrace your own spirituality, you will find the answers you need.

6. Seek Hope and Healing

As much as you may not want to face it, in time, your friend or loved one will die. To love and live wholly again, you must find a way to mourn. In fact, you cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. As painful as it may be, you must embrace your grief in order to begin to heal.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor and author, puts it this way: “You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to ‘keep your chin up’ and stay busy and wait to ‘get over’ your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.”

Man looking out window, friend places comforting hand on shoulder

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

With these 6 self-care tips in mind, start choosing the best ways to maintain your own self-health while supporting your dying friend or loved one. More than likely, you will still be tired and emotionally worn. However, these recommendations for self-care can help prevent you from reaching burnout as you journey alongside someone you love during their final days.

*Based heavily on a brochure by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about helping a friend in grief. Published with permission.

Husband talking to wife as she lies in hospital bed

8 Tips for Helping Your Family Through a Family Member’s Terminal Diagnosis

By For Caregivers & Families No Comments

Learning that a member of your family is dying is often the most devastating news a family can receive. Your family is starting a journey they didn’t ask for and don’t want – with hospital visits, hospice care, grief, sorrow, and tears. But it doesn’t have to only be rainy days! You can create beautiful memories to cherish and turn your love and concern into positive actions. Together, let’s discuss ways you can help your family process a loved one’s diagnosis and how you can grieve well together.

Father and son sitting on bench talking

1. Take Time to Accept What’s Happened

It’s going to take time to cope with your family’s new reality. Before the diagnosis, you may have thought this type of thing only happens to other families, and it’s hard to grasp that it’s now happening to yours. If the onset of the illness was sudden or unexpected, you and the rest of your family will likely feel shock and numbness at first. This is a natural and necessary response to painful news.

Don’t try to take it all in at once. Accept your new reality in doses or increments. First, try to understand the diagnosis in your head. Then, over the weeks and even months to come, you will come to understand it with your heart. Just take it one day at a time.

Mother and daughter hugging

2. Be Aware of Your Family’s Coping Style

How you and your family respond to this illness will have a lot to do with how you as a family have related in the past. If your family is used to openly talking about their feelings with each other, they will probably be able to communicate more easily about the illness and the changes it brings. Families where people don’t talk about feelings and tend to deal with problems individually will probably have difficulty acknowledging the illness and its impact.

As you have conversations, you will find that some family members want to discuss the illness, while others seem to want to deny the reality and refuse to discuss it. Right now, your family may feel like a pressure cooker: you all have a high need to feel understood, but little capacity to be understanding. Try not to force anything and give each family member room to come to grips with reality in their own way.

family of 5 discussing chores and routines

3. Adjust to Changing Family Roles

A family member’s illness is going to necessitate changes – in routine, in roles and responsibilities, activities, and more. Your family may have a hard time adjusting to the changing roles. For example, if the head of the household is dying, the other spouse may now have to find a job in addition to caring for the home and children. If grandma acted as the family’s binding force before she was ill, her family may now feel confused and disjointed where they once felt strong and cohesive.

These changes can cause upheaval and high emotions, affecting how your family interacts. Depending on temperament and age, some may act short-tempered, overly dependent, or stoic, to name a few options for altered behavior. Each person’s stress, anxiety, or fear will manifest in different ways, so be on the lookout for it. Try not to take any outbursts personally.

At home nurse helping a woman walk

4. Consider Getting Outside Help

One of the most compassionate things you can do for your family during this stressful time is to reach out for and accept help. If someone in your family is caring for the dying person at home, look into end-of-life care options. Have groceries delivered. Hire a housekeeper to come in twice a month. Talk to your church or other community organizations and ask for volunteers to help. And family counseling can be a healing, enriching experience that helps family members understand one another now and long after the illness.

Additionally, hospices are well-staffed and trained to help both the dying person and the dying person’s family. Their mission is two-fold: 1) to help the dying die with comfort, dignity, and love, and 2) to help survivors cope both before and after the death. Contact your local hospice early in the dying process. Too often families wait until the last few days of the sick person’s life to ask for hospice care. When contacted early, hospices can provide a great deal of compassionate support and care up to six months before the death.

Husband talking to wife as she lies in hospital bed

5. Understand What the Dying Person May be Feeling

Experiencing illness affects a person’s mind, heart, and spirit. While you don’t want to make assumptions about what another person may feel, do be aware that terminally ill people may experience a variety of emotions following a diagnosis. Fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, and loneliness are just a few of the emotions they may feel—one at a time or simultaneously.

These feelings are a natural response to terminal illness. Your role as caring family member should be to listen to the sick person’s thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. If they are sad, they’re sad. Don’t try to take that necessary emotion away. If they are angry or feeling guilty, that’s okay too. You may be tempted to soothe away or deny these painful feelings, but a more helpful response is to simply acknowledge them. Listen and understand.

Woman sleeping in her bed

6. Help Family Members Tend to their Own Needs

When a family member is dying, that person becomes the focal point for the entire family. Suddenly everyone is concerned about that one person and their coming death. This is normal, but family members should not lose sight of their own needs during this difficult time.

Encourage everyone to nurture themselves as well as the sick person. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten schedules as much as possible. And even though the family is experiencing a serious time, they should still give themselves permission to be happy. Plan fun events. Allow time to laugh, love, and enjoy life.

Mother, father, and teenage daughter praying together

7. Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your family’s life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Singly or together, you may find comfort and hope in reading spiritual texts, attending religious services, or praying. Allow yourselves to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If one or more family members are angry at God because of the illness, realize that this is a normal and natural response. Try not to be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings each family member needs to explore.

8. Seek Hope and Healing as a Family

When a family member dies, each surviving member of the family must find a way to mourn if they are to love and live wholly again. It’s impossible to heal if you aren’t willing to openly express grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming.

Woman wearing black as she stands next to grave marker and holds white flowers

Remember, every family member will grieve in a different way. Leave room for different expressions of grief. Some will feel sad, others angry, guilty, or even relieved. Don’t judge the reactions of the other people in your family – simply realize that each of you will face the pain differently. Look for ways to honor and remember the person you’ve lost. These healing actions will help you find a way to move forward.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Grief is a process, not an event. Encourage your family to be patient with each other and kind to themselves. Your life as a family has changed forever, and it will take time, open sharing, and intentionality to discover the way forward.

Bible laying open on wooden table

15 Bible Verses to Bring Comfort During Hospice

By For Caregivers & Families, Grief & Loss No Comments

When you or a loved one are entering into hospice care, you may experience a wide variety of emotions: sadness, anger, shock, denial, relief, and guilt, to name a few. In the midst of the emotional turmoil, words of comfort from the Bible can be exactly what you need to bring comfort during a difficult time. Here are a few verses you can meditate on as you deal with the stresses of hospice for yourself or a loved one.

Bible laying open on wooden table

Verses to Bring Comfort

Matthew 11: 28-30

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Teenage girl praying, hands clasped

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Psalm 34:18

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him! The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.

Open book with pages folded together in middle to create a heart

Verses to Remember God’s Promises

Remembering the promises God has made to his people can not only comfort those who are mourning, but in many ways, they will also bring a renewed perspective of who God will be through this trial.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

Romans 8:35, 37-39

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Man sitting at table with mug and glasses, holding and reading Bible

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:27

 I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Psalm 56:10-13

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.

Mom and teenage daughter reading the Bible together, teenager touching mother's hand in a comforting way

Verses of Hope for the Future

In addition to feeling God’s comfort and remembering His promises, many Bible verses give hope for the future – an eternal life in God’s presence. Moreover, verses that talk about Christ’s sacrifice and his victory over death give comfort that earthly death is not the end. Jesus has conquered death, as have His children. Because of His sacrifice, there is hope. Hope for a future filled with God’s goodness. Hope for life with Him in heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 11:25-26

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.

Young girl sitting on steps outside, Bible in lap, hands clasped in prayer

Job 19:25-27

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!

Philippians 1:21-23

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.

*All Scripture verses are from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible.

Older man sitting quietly on stone steps as he thinks

Processing & Accepting Your Terminal Diagnosis

By For Caregivers & Families, Hospice No Comments

You’ve just received the news you’ve been dreading ever since you had that first appointment: your medical condition is terminal. Right now, you may be feeling so many emotions – shock or disbelief chief amongst them. Even as you grapple with your feelings, you’re faced with an exceedingly difficult challenge: accepting that you are dying while striving to make the most of your days. In this article, we will discuss how to process the reality of your terminal diagnosis while also finding a way to continue to live fully even though you are dying.

Processing & Accepting the Reality of Your Diagnosis

The initial shock of your diagnosis may have faded, or it could still be front and center. Take a few days to allow the strength of your emotions to abate a little. Then, for both your own sanity and your family’s, start processing through your new reality so that you can make the most of your final days.

Person talking to doctor

1. Acknowledge You Are Dying

Acknowledging you are dying is the first step to living the rest of your life. If your illness was sudden or unexpected, you’re going to deal with shock, disbelief, or numbness at first. This is a natural and necessary response to painful news. Don’t try to deal with everything at once; take your time. At first, you will understand everything with just your head, but in time, you will come to understand it with your heart.

To acknowledge you are dying is to let go of the future. It is to live only in the present. There is no easy way to do this, and you will probably struggle with this every day. However, by acknowledging and not denying the reality of your coming death, you will open your heart and mind to the possibility of a new, rich way of living.

2. Question the Meaning of Life

Discovering that you are dying naturally makes you take inventory of your life. You have a right to have questions, fears, and hopes. Illness often establishes a new direction for our lives and makes us question some of our old habits. New thoughts, feelings, and action patterns will begin to emerge; embrace them. The unknown invites you to question and search for the meaning of your life, in the past, present, and future.

Older man sitting quietly on stone steps as he thinks

3. Accept Your Response to the Illness

Each person responds to news of terminal illness in their own way. You, too, will have your own response. You may feel fear, excitement, anger, loss, grief, denial, hope, or any combination of emotions. By becoming aware of how you respond right now, you will discover how you will live with your terminal illness. Don’t let others tell you how you feel. Instead, find people who encourage you to teach them how you feel. After all, there’s no right or wrong way for you to think and feel.

4. Respect Your Own Need to Talk or Stay Silent

You may find that you don’t want to talk about your illness at all. Or you may find that you want to talk about it with some people, but not with others. In general, open and honest communication is a good idea. When you make your thoughts and feelings known, you are more likely to receive the kind of care and companionship you need.

But if you don’t want to talk about your illness, don’t force yourself. Perhaps you will be able to open up more later on, after you have lived with the reality of your illness for a time.

Man and woman sitting at table, man comforts woman with hand on shoulder

5. Tell Your Family and Friends You Are Dying

As hard as it may be, your family and closest friends deserve to know that you are dying. Tell them when you feel able to. If you simply cannot bring yourself to tell them, ask a compassionate person you trust to share the news on your behalf.

Just as every terminally ill person reacts differently to a diagnosis, each family member or friend will react differently to your news. Some will sit in shock, cry, or refuse to believe it. Others will spring into helpful action by running errands for you, offering to clean your house, etc.

Many will not know how to respond. Because they don’t know what to say or do, or because your illness reminds them of their own mortality, they may even avoid you altogether. Please know that their apparent abandonment does not mean they don’t love you. Give them time to process.

Make sure not to neglect telling children. They, too, deserve to know. As with all people, children can cope with what they know. They cannot cope with what they don’t know. Be honest with them as you explain the situation in language they will understand. Don’t overexplain but do answer any questions they may have.

Woman sitting on couch with computer in lap, reading documents

6. Be an Active Participant in your Medical Care

Many people are taught to be passive recipients of the care provided by medical experts. But don’t forget—this is your body, your life. Don’t fail to ask questions that are important to your emotional and physical well-being out of fear that you will be “taking up someone’s time.”

Learn about your illness. Visit your local library and consult the medical reference books. Request information from educational associations, such as the National Cancer Institute or the American Heart Association. Ask questions of your doctor, home health or hospice nurses, and other caregivers.

If you educate yourself about the illness and its probable course, you will better understand what is happening to you. You will be better equipped to advocate for personalized, compassionate care. You may not be in control of your illness, but you can and should be in control of your care.

Older man pushing older woman in wheelchair, outside and smiling

7. Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits

Your illness will almost surely leave you feeling fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.

8. Say Goodbye

Knowing you will die offers you a special privilege: saying goodbye to those you love. When you feel you are ready, consider how you will say goodbye. You might set aside a time to talk to each person individually. Or, if you are physically up for it, you might have a gathering for friends and family. Other ways of saying goodbye include writing letters, creating videos, and passing along keepsakes. Your survivors will cherish forever your heartfelt goodbyes.

9. Find Hope & Embrace Your Spirituality

When people are seriously ill, we tend to get caught up in statistics and averages: How soon will the illness progress? How long do I have left? These can be helpful to know, but they don’t always provide spiritual and emotional comfort.

Man and woman praying before a meal

Even if you are certain to die from this illness, you can find hope in your tomorrows, your next visit from someone loved, your spirituality. Hope means finding meaning in life—whether that life will last five more days, five more months, or five more years.

If faith is part of your life, looks for ways to express it. You may find comfort and hope in reading spiritual texts, attending religious services, or praying. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of your illness, that’s okay; it’s a normal and natural response. Find someone to talk to who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

10. Reach Out for Support

While you may have been raised to be fiercely independent, confronting a terminal illness cannot and should not be done alone. As difficult as it may be for you, you must reach out to others, specifically the people you feel most comfortable with in stressful times. Give yourself permission to reach out for prayers, support, and practical assistance.

Hospice nurse helping older woman stand

Additionally, hospices are an indispensable resource for you. They are well-staffed and trained to help both the dying person and the dying person’s family. Their mission is to help the dying die with comfort, dignity and love, and to help survivors cope both before and after the death. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself and withdraw from people who love you.

You still have a journey ahead of you – as you learn to accept and live with your diagnosis. Hopefully, these words have given you hope and a place to start as you process through your feelings and decide how to live the remainder of your days with purpose and intentionality.

*Based heavily on a brochure by Dr. Alan Wolfelt called Helping Yourself Live When You Are Dying. Dr. Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

Man sitting on rock outcropping, resting and recharging in nature

Caring for Yourself When Caring for a Loved One in Hospice

By For Caregivers & Families No Comments

If you are caring for a loved one in hospice, you may be so preoccupied with your family member’s condition that you have very little time to process your own needs for self-care. Even if it’s been months, it’s usually not nearly enough time to come to grips with the reality that your loved one is dying. The fact is that you are experiencing prolonged anticipatory grief. And grief is hard! It’s unpredictable and grueling. It’s mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing.

Man sitting on rock outcropping, resting and recharging in nature

Depending on the nature of your relationship with your loved one, these feelings may persist for quite some time. That’s why self-care is so important. Every person’s grief journey is different, encompassing a range of emotions and an unknown time span, but in the midst of it all, taking care of yourself is important. You may not feel like you have time to take care of yourself right now, but self-care is one of the most beneficial things you do for yourself…and your family.

When you think about self-care, personal fitness may first come to mind, but really, it’s a much broader term. It does mean taking care of yourself physically, but it also encompasses your emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and even social health. So, what can you do to take care of yourself while you’re caring for a loved one in hospice?

1. Don’t be afraid of your feelings.

You feel what you feel. It is what it is, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the emotions that may be coursing through you. We all feel loss differently, and every loss is different because every person and individual relationship is unique. Try not to stifle or ignore your feelings; don’t stuff everything down. Instead, accept that you feel what you feel and that it’s okay.

2. Give yourself time.

Grief is a journey, not an event. You will need time to come to grips with what it will mean to live without your loved one. While your loved one is in hospice care, you may have fallen into a particular routine, and you may not feel like you have time to grieve your loss as it’s happening. It’s okay to give yourself a little space and to take more breaks. Losing a loved one is hard, and you need time to work through your emotions, so you can be present in the moment with the person you are caring for.

Woman sitting on couch as she draws on canvas, expressing herself

3. Find ways to express your feelings.

It’s important to express your feelings in some way, but what you do is going to depend on your personality. For some, it’s helpful to go out into the backyard and chop wood or go to the batting cages and just whack the ball over and over again. For others, creative expression is helpful. Many times, journaling, creative writing, painting, drawing, arts & crafts, or other types of self-expression help us make sense of the seemingly senseless feelings going on inside. And if you are a person of faith, prayer, meditation, worship, or traditional rituals can help you express your grief.

4. Don’t neglect your health.

Most people feel more tired and less energetic when they are caring for a sick loved one. For this reason, it’s important to get plenty of sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping, try to stay hydrated, limit your caffeine intake in the afternoons, and make sure that your bedroom is dark and relaxing. Additionally, make sure that you are eating healthy foods and taking time to participate in some kind of physical activity on a regular basis.

One thing to watch out for is numbing activities. It may start out as a coping mechanism but beware of allowing numbing activities to distract you from dealing with your emotions. Common numbing activities are: overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, anger outbursts, excessive exercise, binge watching TV or movies, escaping into books to distract yourself, isolating yourself, shopping to feel better, or overworking to stay busy. While these activities may help you cope for a while, they only hit the pause button on your emotions. They won’t help you move toward reconciling to your loss and moving forward in a healthy way.

5. Allow others to walk alongside you.

You don’t have to walk this road alone. In fact, it will be much less stressful if you do accept help from others. You are going through an experience that is changing you in an irreversible way, and that’s not something you should have to process alone. Take your friends along with you on the hard journeys in life. They can’t carry your burdens for you, but they can help carry you along, and they can provide the support you need to move forward and find new life and new meaning.

Three women in the woods, taking photographs of nature, supporting each other through friendship

Self-Care vs. Keeping Busy

It’s important to remember that self-care is not about “keeping busy.” It’s about taking care of yourself as you grieve and process a loss as it’s happening. Nationally respected grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way: “Remember—self-care fortifies your long and challenging grief journey, a journey which leaves you profoundly affected and deeply changed. To be self-nurturing is to have the courage to pay attention to your needs. Above all, self-nurturing is about self-acceptance. When we recognize that self-care begins with ourselves, we no longer think of those around us as being totally responsible for our well-being. Healthy self-care forces us to mourn in ways that help us heal, and that is nurturing indeed.

Caring for yourself will contribute to giving you the strength you need to face each new day with its unique challenges. So, take a relaxing bubble bath. Exercise. Talk with friends. Take walks. Stick to a daily schedule. Enjoy a healthy, revitalizing meal. No matter what you decide is best for you, be kind to yourself. It’s okay to have a bad day, and you don’t need to feel guilty when you have a good day. Being kind to yourself will help you reconcile with your loss and find a way to move forward each day, with enough energy to celebrate the successes and mourn the heartbreaks.

Parent cupping child's hands as child holds a red, cloth heart

How to Offer Emotional Support to a Dying Child (and Their Family)

By For Caregivers & Families, Grief & Loss No Comments

A child you care about is dying. You want to offer your love and care, but you’re not sure how to go about it. Whether you are a parent, friend, or caregiver, may this guide help you turn your care and concern into action.

When a Child is Dying

In our hearts, we all believe that children aren’t supposed to die. As much as we wish otherwise, the sad truth is that children do die. Confronting this difficult reality is the first step you can take toward helping a dying child. It’s going to take time, so for now, try to accept the reality of the child’s medical condition, if only with your head. You will later come to accept it with your heart.

Little girl in pink dress playing doctor with stuffed bear

As you navigate through a heartbreaking situation, may these 10 insights serve as a guide to loving a child (and their family) through one of life’s most difficult times…the loss of a child.

1. Don’t Underestimate the Child’s Capacity to Understand

Children have the capacity to understand more than we give them credit for. Like adults, they deserve our respect and compassion—and our honesty. Sometimes adults, in an effort to protect themselves, assume that children are incapable of understanding or should be protected from the truth. These adults often don’t talk directly to dying children about their prognoses, which can leave the children feeling alone and isolated.

Children can cope with what they know. They can’t cope with what they don’t know. Dying children deserve an atmosphere that creates open, two-way communication. Many terminally ill children will go back and forth between wanting to know details about their illness and not wanting to acknowledge they are even sick. It is critical to follow the child’s lead. Always listen first as you participate in open dialogue about any feelings, concerns, or questions they might have. If they ask something and you don’t know the answer, simply say, “I don’t know.”

Dad talking kindly to sad young daughter

2. Be Honest with the Child About Their Coming Death

As the child comes to comprehend their illness and its severity, explain to them that they will likely die, making sure to use language they will understand. The conversation may be the hardest thing you have ever done, but honest love is what a dying child needs most.

Depending on their age and developmental maturity, they may not immediately (or ever) fully understand what their illness means. But they will begin to incorporate the notion of death into their remaining life and will have the opportunity to think about it and ask questions. They will also have the privilege of saying goodbye.

Do not try to protect the child by lying about their condition. If a dying child is told they are going to get better but everyone around is acting down and defeated, they will notice. This may make the child feel confused, frustrated, and perhaps angry.

Instead, show your love and respect by being honest and open with them and helping them understand that they are dying.

Parent cupping child's hands as child holds a red, cloth heart

3. Encourage Open Communication, But Do Not Force It

As caring adults, we should encourage honest communication between the child, caregivers, family, and friends. However, we should never force it. Children will naturally “dose” themselves as they encounter the reality of the illness in their life. In other words, they will accept the reality of their circumstances in small doses over time. They aren’t able to take all the information in at once, nor will they want to.

Answer only what the child asks. Don’t overrespond out of your own anxiety. Remember—children will determine with whom they want to share their pain. Often, a child wants to protect their parents or other close adults and will adopt a “chin up” attitude around them. This is a normal response and should be respected.

4. Watch for the Child’s Indirect Communication

Children, particularly seriously ill children, are not always direct about their thoughts and feelings. They may make statements, display behaviors, or ask questions that indirectly suggest their understanding or awareness of the situation. These cues reflect underlying needs and deserve loving responses. Pay special attention to the child’s non-verbal means of trying to communicate any needs or concerns.

Mom kissing her sick daughter's head

5. Tune In to the Dying Child’s Emotions

Aside from the considerable physical toll terminal illness can take, dying also affects a child’s head, heart, and spirit.

While you shouldn’t guess at or make assumptions about a child’s feelings, do be aware that they may experience a variety of emotions. Fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and loneliness are just a few of the emotions they may feel—one at a time or simultaneously.

These feelings are a natural response to serious illness. Don’t try to help the child “get over” these feelings; simply enter into their feelings and validate them.

6. Help the Dying Child Live to the Fullest

Terminal illness presents human beings with an exceedingly difficult and contradictory challenge: you are dying, you know you are dying, yet it is your nature to want to live. Dying children often feel this tension, too. If the adults around them have been honest, they understand that they will soon die, but they still want to live and laugh and play as often as they can.

Help the dying child live happily. Do what is in your power to make them comfortable. Create special, memorable moments. Don’t completely abandon your normal routine (this may make the child feel out-of-control and unprotected) but do work to make each remaining day count. Above all, spend time with them. Make sure that the people who mean the most are around as often as possible.

Group of four children smiling at the camera

Peer relationships are very important to children, and the illness will likely create some social and physical barriers to these friendships. When possible, nurture the child’s friendships when possible. Arrange a special party. Make play dates with one or two best friends. Help two children write letters back and forth when personal contact isn’t possible.

7. Take Advantage of Resources for the Dying

Local hospices are well-staffed and trained to help both a dying child and their family. The hospice’s mission is to help the dying die with comfort, dignity, and love, and to help survivors cope both before and after the death. Other organizations, like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, help dying children find joy in their remaining lives.

8. Support Parents and Other Important Adults in the Child’s Life

A child’s terminal illness naturally impacts everyone who loves the child. Not only should you be supportive of the child, you should also be available to support and nurture other family members and close friends through the grief and stress of the situation. The adult’s response to the illness will influence the child’s response. So, in supporting adults, you are supporting the child.

Perhaps you can be a caring companion to the family and help in practical ways. Offer to provide food for the family, wash clothes, or clean the house. Listen when they need to talk. Sit with the ill child to give parents a break. Offer to babysit the other children in the family. While words may be inadequate, your supportive behavior will be remembered forever.

Two people holding hands in comfort

9. Don’t Forget Siblings

Don’t forget the impact a dying child’s illness is having on their siblings. Because so much time and attention are focused on the dying child, his brothers and sisters may feel emotionally abandoned. Go out of your way to ensure their needs are also being met.

10. Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. During this difficult time, you may find comfort and hope in reading spiritual texts, attending religious services, or praying. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs.

A Final Word

All children, terminally ill or not, have the right to be nurtured, to be children, and to make choices that impact their lives. There is nothing more difficult for families than confronting the death of a child. As caring adults, we have a responsibility to maximize the quality of life for the child, the family, and friends. May these 10 insights help you lovingly care for each person affected by the death of a child.

*Based heavily on a brochure by Dr. Alan Wolfelt called Helping a Child Who is Dying. Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about helping children in grief. Published with permission.

Younger person holding elderly person's hands in a comforting way

6 Ways to Support a Dying Friend in Their Final Days

By For Caregivers & Families, Grief & Loss No Comments

If you’re reading this, you have a friend who is dying, and you’re probably dealing with a lot of feelings. Facing the death of someone you care about is extremely difficult for everyone involved, but hopefully, these words will guide you toward knowing how you can help and support your friend with loving actions during their final days.

Younger person holding elderly person's hands in a comforting way

When a Friend is Dying

First, it’s important to confront the difficult reality that someone you care deeply about is dying. It may take time to accept the fact of your friend’s impending death. In some cases, it may not be until after death has occurred that you fully and finally acknowledge the reality. This is normal.

If you just aren’t ready (or able) to accept your friend’s coming death just yet, that’s okay. Instead, try to come to grips with the reality of their medical condition, if only with your head. You will later come to accept it with your heart.

Now, let’s talk about six ways you can emotionally support your friend and make their final days precious and meaningful.

1. Give the Gift of Presence

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your dying friend is the gift of your presence. Particularly if you live nearby, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your support by being there, literally, when your friend needs you most. Visit your friend at the hospital or at home—not just once, but throughout the remainder of their days. Rent a movie and bring popcorn. Play cards or board games. Sit together and watch the snow or rain fall. Your simple presence will say to your friend, “I am willing to walk this difficult road with you and face with you whatever comes.”

Remember to respect your friend’s need for alone time, though, and realize that their deteriorating physical condition may leave them with little energy. Give your friend time alone when they need it.

Two male friends sitting together, praying

2. Be a Good Listener

Your friend may want to openly discuss their illness and impending death, or they may avoid discussing it entirely. The key is to follow your friend’s lead. Keep in mind that your friend will experience this illness in their own unique way. No two journeys are the same.

Allow your friend to talk about their illness and their grief at their own pace. And while you can be a “safe harbor” for your friend to explain their thoughts and feelings, don’t force the situation if they resist. Give them space and time to think and feel what they need to think and feel.

If you listen well, you can help your friend cope during this difficult time. Both your physical presence and your desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words your friend is sharing with you.

3. Learn About Your Friend’s Illness

It’s said that “People can cope with what they know, but they cannot cope with what they don’t know.” You will be better equipped to help your friend if you take it upon yourself to learn about their illness. Consult medical reference books at your local library. Request information from educational associations, such as the National Cancer Institute or the American Heart Association. With your friend’s consent, you might also talk to their physician.

If you educate yourself about the illness and its probable course, you will be a more understanding listener and can prepare yourself for the reality of the illness’s later stages.

Two women sitting together, discussing a serious topic

4. Be Compassionate

As you spend time with your friend, give them permission to express their feelings about the illness without fear of criticism. After all, everyone needs time to vent or express what’s on the inside. But again, let your friend take the lead. Learn from your friend; don’t instruct or set expectations about how they should respond. Think of yourself as someone who “walks with” the dying person, not “behind” or “in front of” them.

Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Comments like, “This is God’s will” or “Just be happy you have had a good life” are not constructive. Instead, these kinds of comments are often hurtful and may make your friend’s experience with terminal illness more difficult. If you feel the need to console your friend, simply remind them how loved they are.

5. Offer Practical Help

While your friend may have family around to help, there are many ways you can still assist with the activities of daily living. Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house, watching the kids, or driving your friend to and from the hospital for treatment are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care. Make sure to coordinate with family members so that there’s no added stress from miscommunication.

Young woman washing dishses

6. Stay in Touch

If you are unable to visit your sick friend due to distance or other circumstances, write a note or make a call or send a gift or make a video. What should you say? Tell your friend how much they mean to you. Reminisce about some of the fun times you’ve shared. Promise you’ll write again soon—and then follow through on that promise. Avoid sending a generic greeting card unless you’ve personalized it with a heartfelt message.

Your friend is likely facing a lot of emotions as they journey toward death. Fear, shock, anger, sadness. No matter how they’re feeling, they need you, your love, and your friendship to make it through the coming days. Use these six actions to show your friend just how much you care and make memories that will be precious to you both.

*Based heavily on a brochure by Dr. Alan Wolfelt called Helping a Friend Who is Dying. Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about helping a friend in grief. Published with permission.