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Weekly Tips & Insights

Best practices on supporting a family member in hospice

Q & A with VNA’s Nurses

How can families be supportive of a relative in hospice care?

“I think listening is a big thing. We really need to listen to what it is the patient wants, what it is that they’re afraid of, and what they need help with. And not what it is we want. Really listening is the key.” Carol Emmerich, Director, Hospice Care Services

“Families need to help support the caregiver and the patient and they can do that through multiple ways. They can visit the patient, so the caregiver can get out, particularly around the holidays, so they can get their shopping done, get their groceries purchased and help decorate the house for Christmas. Those are things you just don’t have time to do when you have a terminal illness.” Carol Emmerich, Director, Hospice Care Services

Are there things you notice emotional healthy patients do to stay upbeat?

“Emotionally healthy patients spend time with family members, if they have grandchildren or siblings that live nearby, and stay involved in family functions. Still taking part in their hobbies—we have patients that like to crochet or knit. And attending whatever religious functions they participate in, depending on where they are in their spirituality.” Chundra Williams, LCSW Social Worker

“What we see is that people who have developed good coping skills their entire life tend to lean on those at the end of life. When they’ve developed good coping skills those become a godsend to them at the end.” Carol Emmerich, Director, Hospice Care Services

What are challenges hospice patients face during the holidays?

“One of the challenges that they face is that sometimes traditions have to change. Patients don’t have the stamina that they did in the past. Visits have to be kept shorter. Food has to be kept to a minimum. Strong odors and smells have to be reduced a bit. There has to be quiet time. There also have to be joyful times. So, it’s not making it a Christmas like every other, but making it a special Christmas under the circumstances.” Carol Emmerich, Director, Hospice Care

What can families do to provide extra support during the holidays?

“They have to find a way to incorporate the family member in the holiday traditions in a way that’s meaningful to both people involved. Simple things are important. A thought, a card, or some cookies. It’s the little things that mean the most to patients in hospice.” Carol Emmerich, Director, Hospice Care

“Bring family functions to the patient since they’re not really able to get out. Do Thanksgiving or Christmas wherever the patient is. Bring it to them, so they can feel like they’re a part of it." Chundra Williams, LCSW Social Worker

What are some ways to personally stay positive during the holidays if you have a family member in hospice?

“Sharing memories can be a time that is both poignant, joyous and sad, but necessary. So, reminiscing, storytelling and things that bring people together in a bond are helpful for hospice patients.” Carol Emmerich, Director, Hospice Care


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