Families unable to see their loved ones were among the more heart-wrenching moments of the early Covid-19 era. This was particularly challenging to those with family members in healthcare facilities, from hospitals to residential care homes.
Lockdowns forced many healthcare facilities to close their doors. This prevented people from seeing dying loved ones, only learning from staff by phone when they passed. Supporting families became an immediate concern. This was particularly true for those with loved ones in hospice care, but the need to help families in crisis extends far beyond the pandemic.
The most important way of supporting families is to keep them connected. Caregivers, nurses, RN case managers, and anyone who interacts with patients needs to be a positive channel of communication. For families, they can also become sources of information, relaying updates to relatives and members of a patient’s social circle–sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, church members, or family friends.
Keeping everyone informed will help them feel close to the people they love, even if they can’t see them in person. Awareness of a person’s condition also paves the way for acts of spontaneous kindness from afar—sending flowers, little gifts, or greeting cards, setting up an impromptu video chat with the assistance of facility staff—these tiny acts of generosity support both patients and families alike.
Those aforementioned video chats quickly became vital during the early days of the pandemic, connecting everyone from coworkers to counselors via platforms like Facetime, Zoom, and Skype. But for families kept apart due to the threat of Covid-19, video chats were a bonafide lifeline.
But families don’t need a pandemic to stay connected. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has made it much easier for families and their dying loved ones to meet face-to-face at anytime. Even a short interaction is enough to lift a patient’s spirits; family members can also see any visible changes in their loved one’s health.
For caretakers communicating with family members, it’s essential to resist the temptation to offer advice. Families with loved ones in decline or loved ones recently lost experience a myriad of emotions. Working through questions, fears, anxieties, and concerns is an important part of the grieving process, so caretakers should be present and let people just talk.
It may take some time for families to open up to someone else, be it a caretaker, a grief counselor or a chaplain; checking in often helps make people feel more comfortable about opening up a little. Building up a close relationship will make it easier to help them.
When working with families with loved ones in hospice care, choosing the right words is important, but it helps to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all just people. And we experience many of the same challenges, including caregivers.
Everyone has stress and strain in their relationships. Parents and children are no different. A lot of things happen to them over the course of a lifetime, and not all of them will be good. But thinking back over the problems they had will only make it harder to move on. Giving them the space to process their feelings while gently encouraging them to focus on positive memories helps them come to terms easier, and hold onto the good more than the bad.
Remembering helps people acknowledge loss and find meaning, and it also creates an opportunity for caretakers to bond with families over shared experiences from their own lives. Being relatable is a great way of supporting families as they grieve.
For caretakers, it’s also essential to remember that everyone grieves differently. There is no right way or wrong way, just as there is no right way or wrong way of supporting them.
Hospice exists not only to comfort patients but their family as well. Besides nurses and case managers, hospice teams include chaplains trained to guide families through the grieving process.
If you need help supporting families through their loss, hospice grief counselors and chaplains are a great resource. Their knowledge will help create a path forward to a place of comfort.