How to help a family in Hospice and give real support. Here are 14 ways people helped our family that made an incredible difference.
Do you know what is an amazing gift but can also be incredibly overwhelming during Hospice? People wanting to help.
When my dad was transitioning from a serious illness (Lung Cancer) to Hospice, people came out of the woodwork to show love and support. Every day we would get phone calls, visitors, and cards in the mail that all asked the same questions…
- “Do you need anything?”
- “What can I do to help?”
- “What would make this easier for you?”
I always felt like…
“Ummmmm… I honestly have no idea.”
I’m not sure what we need. I don’t know how you can help.
I do know, NOTHING will make end of life easier.
We did need help. We needed TONS of help along the way.
But, I had no idea what to say to people who asked us how they could help.
How to help a family dealing with hospice is complicated.
The family members? They’re just trying to keep it together long enough to survive this moment. They have no clue what they’re doing or what to expect.
Here’s the truth. When you’re a family transitioning someone you love into Hospice end-of-life care, it’s absolutely devastating.
You have no idea what you need and NO idea how to figure it out.
Here are some incredible ways that people helped my family when the world was falling down around us and we had no idea what we needed.
How to Help a Family In Hospice…
Call Before You Stop By
Hospice is a different kind of experience. First of all, you have appointments all day, the appointments just come to your house. The Hospice team assembles… Hospice nurses, nurses aides, social workers, chaplains, counselors… there are a lot of services involved in a Hospice care team.
There are also some pretty intimate situations involved with Hospice. Changing clothing, bathroom accidents, changing bedding. And, once the dying process begins, their loved one will look different and become unresponsive.
Hospice is a personal process, one that’s incredibly difficult and really private.
Call before you stop by. It will give them an out if they need one, or give them time to collect themselves if they desperately need your support.
Don’t be Scared
Hospice is a difficult time and a lot for anyone to take, but the entire point of this process is so people can die on their own terms with dignity, surrounded by the people that love them.
After this experience, I would find myself thinking about how everyone should be able to receive comfort care and just drift off to sleep in their final days surrounded by the people who mean the most to them.
Everyone should be able to pass away just like that. Surrounded by love, encircled in peace, and supported until the very last breath.
If you’re nervous, that’s natural. Go, be normal and don’t be worried about it. Don’t avoid them. This may be your last chance to tell them what they mean to you, and that’s incredibly important.
Hold their hand. I know things feel different, but they’re no different now than they were 3 months ago. It’s just a lot has happened over the course of the 3 months and they’re tired.
During our one week in hospice, we sat with him. As the days went by he became more unresponsive, so we held his hand, and we talked to him. I told him that I was never going to be ready to lose him, but that I understood why he was ready. I told him I would take care of mommy and everything else that came along.
Close friends and family were able to come and say their goodbyes.
Hospice told us that’s important.
That sometimes people hold on because they aren’t sure their family is going to be okay, or they’re waiting for someone to come. I’ve heard it’s important for them to know that you love them and that you are going to be okay. I could see a guy like my dad holding on for much longer than needed because he was worried about us.
Don’t Ask “What Can I do?”
Just say something like.
“Hey! I’m dropping off dinner tonight.” “You can freeze it if you already have something ready.” “I just need to know if you have any food allergies or special dietary needs I should be aware of?”
“Hey! I just wanted to let you know that the snowstorm tonight is supposed to be about 5 inches.” “My husband is going to stop by tomorrow morning and shovel and salt your walkways.” “I just didn’t want him to surprise you.”
NOW, YOU’VE MADE THE SITUATION EASY FOR THEM.
- They don’t need to do anything.
- They can stop worrying about how they’re going to deal with the snowstorm or what to eat for dinner.
- And, they can focus their energy on spending whatever time they have left with their loved one.
We had NO IDEA what we needed, so if you ask just say…
- “I’m running to the store. Can I grab anything for you?”
- “Hey! I made a casserole for you guys tonight! Is it okay if I drop it off and you can just toss it in the freezer for whenever?”
- “I have an empty washer over here (or I’m headed to the laundromat) and wanted to let you know I would love to help you out with the laundry. Can I swing by and pick some up?”
I can remember after an incredibly long and difficult week, at the beginning of our hospice journey we were discharged from the hospital and we arrived home to a perfectly manicured lawn.
We still have no idea who did it, but I can tell you that when we left the lawn was starting to look like a jungle. And since we now had all these people coming to the house every day, it helped tremendously. Especially knowing that my dad who was dying took immense pride in the state of his lawn.
Things that used to be a priority like mowing the lawn, suddenly get tossed on the back burner. You have so many other things to stress about, you literally can’t deal with things that used to be important. Things like that are the best way to help.
Here are a few other ways you can help out …
- Mow the lawn
- Rake leaves
- Shovel snow
- Take out the garbage
- Salt the driveway
- Walk the dog
Gift Cards/Certificates for Bills or the Grocery Store
Cancer is financially draining. Money and finances are a huge struggle for people who have been going through this for any amount of time.
And transitioning to Hospice means more expenses are coming their way.
Gift Certificates from the local grocery store or gift cards that can be used to pay the cable, car loan, or electric bill will be extremely helpful for someone who has been struggling through this battle.
Offer to Help With Laundry
Hospice generates a significant amount of laundry.
You use triple the amount of bedding and when you add that to clothing, towels, and the normal stuff… it can really add up.
Not to mention, if they’re lucky enough to have a washer and a dryer in their house, it’s probably not designed to wash massive amounts of bedding over and over again.
And if they’re using the laundry mat. They don’t have the time to spend the day there.
Offering to take some of that laundry off their hands, even if you send it out to a laundry service will be a HUGE relief.
Make a Meal
This was hands down one of the most helpful things people did for us. Hospice is physically and emotionally draining. After spending all day crying and stressed the last thing you want to do is cook dinner. And eating out all the time is super expensive.
Having a complete meal dropped off and ready to eat (or freeze for later) is like a gift straight from Heaven.
Here’s a few quick tips we’ve learned since we started doing this for other families in this situation.
- Establish a few go-to meals (Baked Ziti, Chicken and Rice, Mexican Taco Bake).
- Drop off your meal in a disposable pan (you can grab one at the dollar store). This way you don’t have to worry about losing your dish. And they don’t have to worry if they don’t return it.
- Cover with a disposable lid or tin foil.
- Write the directions and any important information on the lid. (example: “Everything’s cooked. Just heat @ 350 degrees until hot, sprinkle the cheese on top, melt in the oven. That’s it!”)
- Add a bag of salad (a kit has everything they need) or a can of corn or green beans for the vegetables.
There you go. You have just made tonight so much easier after an emotionally exhausting day.
Say a Prayer
If you’re asking yourself how to help a family dealing with hospice, the power of prayer is unbelievable, and it won’t cost you a penny.
I am certain that the reason we were able to keep fighting for 21-months was because of this one “simple” gift. It may seem small, but it’s a huge and powerful way how to help a family dealing with hospice!
It’s like ordering some extra backup from Heaven to get through this rough time.
Who doesn’t need some extra backup?
This was the hardest week of my life, and like most families we just wanted everyone to know how brave and amazing my dad was. We told so many stories that week because we didn’t expect to find ourselves in this place. It helped us move through this and honor him in a way he deserved.
He was amazing. Through 21 months of getting kicked down over and over again… he had the most positive attitude, and some incredible experiences with his family, and never took one single day for granted.
Let the family talk about their loved one. It helps tremendously when they’re trying to get through something like this.
Give the Family a Break
I can tell you that it’s hard to “live” in sadness 24/7. The emotional toll of Hospice is unbelievable. If you’re a close friend, giving the family even an hour to take a walk outside or do ANYTHING else is a blessing.
When my sister arrived, my husband picked me up and took me out of the house for an hour or two. Just getting out of the house for short time did wonders for my mental health. Hospice is an emotionally charged and draining situation. So it makes sense that getting out of it for a short time would help.
Give Their Children a Safe Place to Go
My parents were retired when my dad got sick. But when I was a child, we had a neighbor whose mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and she spent almost every day at my house after school.
We did our homework together, had dinner together, and when we were finished we ran amock together. She even got to spend the night on school nights, sometimes. It was all very exciting.
I was thrilled, after all she was my best friend. But for her family, it was a huge relief to have a safe, comfortable place for their daughter to go. A place where she was happy and healthy and they didn’t have to worry.
The same applies for Hospice. Kids need a break from the anxiety and the sadness.
Having a safe place where the kids can spend some time off from the stress and the grief, eating dinner, playing video games, and just being NORMAL is a really big deal.
It sucks when cancer happens and everything gets weird and awkward. Suddenly people you have loved your whole life have no idea what to say or do and in some cases totally avoid you because they don’t know how to respond. They don’t want to say the wrong thing.
So when you move into a Hospice situation it gets even worse.
Here’s the thing that EVERYONE should know. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say, neither do we. There’s nothing you can say and nothing you can do to fix this. The families going through this don’t know what to say or how to deal with this either. They’re just surviving moment to moment and they need all of the love and support they can get.
Cancer is a tough deal. Hospice is an even worse deal. And, we don’t need you to say anything. It just helps to know you’re still there. When we need some comfort, encouragement or just to unload all of this stuff, we need someone to be there.
Send a Letter With Your Favorite Memories
Send something that can be read to them over and over. Or go on over and spend some quality time with them.
Make it heartfelt, funny, and meaningful. No one wants their entire life to boil down to this experience. That person going through Hospice right now is still that person that you love. The one who made you laugh with his corny jokes or always knew how to handle any situation.
Tell them that. Tell them what they mean to you, describe your favorite or good memories, and how much you love them. Even if they don’t respond they can hear you. And when Hospice is no longer there, the family will have an incredible reminder of how special their loved one was.
Family caregivers play a significant role during a life-threatening illness. Even when treatment options are coming to an end and the most important thing becomes to provide as much comfort as possible and stay on top of pain relief.
Primary caregivers are taking the brunt of this. Actually, the entire family is. There is still so much to do and you’re doing it while muddling through the grieving process.
Shoot a text, or make a quick phone call. It’s just important to let them know you’re around if they need you. Even a simple ❤️ text can go a long way when your heart is breaking. It provides love, and emotional support.
Share Bible Verses
If the family has faith, this is a great way to support their spiritual needs.
Because the Holy Bible can remind you of many important things, such as…
- You can make it through hard times
- Why your calling matters
- The deeper purpose behind what you’re doing
- Your ability to cope with God’s help
- The promises God has fulfilled for others
- The promises God makes to everyone – including you
Give them the spiritual support they need at the end of their life.
I’m confident they’ll help you. The good word always helps me. The power of the holy spirit can help you through the most difficult times.
These scripture quotations and the power of God helped me through the worst days of my life, and I hope they help you too.
I know how difficult it is to walk into a situation like this, but trust me this is when it counts. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say or even how to help. Just be there for the family. This is an incredible amount of stress
Think about this, if you found yourself in Hospice tomorrow who would you be worried about? Now take care of those people
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