The end of life is a difficult road . One Shepherd’s Cove Hospice social worker offers a bit of advice to caregivers that can make the road a bit smoother.
While nurses focus on the medical care to relieve physical pain and suffering, hospice social workers meet other non-physical needs at the end of life. Sometimes those needs involve assistance in documents and legal matters, like wills, filing for veteran’s benefits, or helping caregivers fill out paperwork for the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows them time off work to care for their loved one. Sometimes social workers may assist the family by providing a list of sitter services or helping place a patient in a nursing home when the family requires more help with care.
Social workers are trained to uncover needs, such as financial crises, through observation and talking with patients and caregivers. They can connect families with community resources for assistance in matters like paying a patient’s light bill or providing food. Sometimes social workers simply give emotional support for patients and caregivers.
“We tell people that we can’t take the place of family caring for their loved one,” said Lyn Stone, SCH social worker. “We’re here to supplement what you’re already doing.”
In 28 years of experience working with hospice patients and elderly residents and through her personal caregiving experience, Lyn has learned a few lessons on how to accompany someone on their end-of-life journey. Here are some of her tips for families and caregivers.
- Be open to talking about death.
Some people find comfort in talking about their own death, especially when faced with a terminal illness. It allows them to express concerns and fears or share their affection for loved ones. When those conversations are difficult, social workers can act as a mediator to help start these important discussions.
“Sometimes the patient wants to talk about death, but they don’t want to upset their family,” Lyn said. “Sometimes the patient is ready, but the family is not.”
- Let your terminally-ill loved one participate in decisions regarding their own care and death.
This may seem obvious, but too often people don’t get to make those decisions because they wait too late to share their wishes with loved ones. Nobody likes to talk about the end of life and death. However, it’s best to start those conversations before those decisions need to be made. Don’t wait until your loved one can’t speak for themselves. The end-of-life journey is hard enough. Eliminate as much stress as possible by planning ahead and making sure you know your loved one’s wishes.
“I know it’s difficult, but this is a gift they can give you and you can give them,” Lyn said. “You’re giving them an opportunity to participate in that, and you’re not stressing over making sure they get what they want.”
- Caregivers can help with pain.
You may not have the medical expertise of a nurse, but you can take measures to address your loved one’s physical pain. Physical touch, from simply holding their hand to giving them a massage, can bring a world of comfort. Spending time with them, reading to them, praying with them, and making them laugh can take their mind off the pain and ease suffering.
“We’ve found that sometimes patients can actually take less pain medications when they’re able to just relax,” Lyn said.
- Ask for help when you can and accept help when it’s offered.
Self-care is easier said than done when your loved one is walking the end-of-life road. But helping another through terminal illness and the end of life is a heavy load. You need a strong foundation to carry it. If someone offers to help, take them up on it. Ask them to come sit with your loved one while you run an errand or just take some time for yourself. Let them help clean the house, mow the yard, or bring food so you can focus your time and energy on your loved one.
Are you or your loved one struggling to deal with a terminal illness? Call us at 256-891-7724 to see how Shepherd’s Cove can help.