I wish I would’ve asked…

“What’s your favorite memory with me?”

“What do you want us to remember about you?”

“What do you want me to tell your son or daughter?”

“That hurt then, but I forgive you.”

After a prolonged illness and months of hospice care followed by the death of a loved one, surviving caregivers often experience the “what I should’ve done” part of grief. While it’s normal to replay conversations and missed opportunities, caregivers often give their best to make their loved one feel comfortable and cherished. It takes an emotional, physical, and mental toll to provide care in those final weeks of life.

The reality is families are often ill-prepared when thrust into the caregiving role, only to truly process later when they are no longer in survival mode taking care of their sick loved one. Hospice professionals, like those at Heart to Heart Hospice, come alongside caregivers to aid with comfort care, expectations surrounding death, and the many decisions involved with  in-home hospice care.

Reminders for Surviving Family Members

  1. Acknowledge your grief but don’t beat yourself up over missed opportunities. It’s normal to feel this way, but optimizing every interaction isn’t realistic for any human being.
  2. Be kind to yourself, realizing that you sacrificed much to honor your loved one’s wishes to die at home or in a residential care facility, instead of a hospital. You can find acceptance and closure that you helped make that happen.
  3. Write a letter to the deceased and include your “should’ves.” Then release the guilt and don’t keep revisiting your regrets. Let go and move on in peace. 
  4. Honor the memories you made together by focusing on the happy times.
  5. Reach out to others for support. Share memories as well as tears.
  6. Take advantage of Bereavement Care services available from Heart to Heart Hospice for up to 13 months after your loss.

For families who truly did everything they could, I encourage them to not focus on what they didn’t or couldn’t do,” says Chaplain Chris White from Heart to Heart Hospice in Detroit, Michigan. “Instead, focus on the things they were able to do and hold on to their best memories.”

Advice for Current Caregivers: How to Avoid Regret

For those who are current caregivers, consider this advice from hospice veterans and professionals to help make the most of your loved one’s final days. These small steps can help keep regrets to a minimum. 

  1. Make a list of important conversations, then make the time and effort to have them. Whether it’s communicating love, forgiveness, gratitude, care needs, or lovingly letting go, difficult conversations often bring needed closure. Several good resources include the Heart to Heart Hospice Patient & Family Handbook and Memory Journal and these Hospice Messages provided by Hallmark writers. Conversations may include:
    • How can I make this easier for you?
    • What do you want us to tell _________?
    • Is there any final wish we can make happen?
    • I forgive you. Can you forgive me?
    • You were such a good dad. Thank you.
    • We’re so lucky to have you as a grandma. What is your favorite memory with each grandchild?
  2. Work to be unified with other family and friends so the patient has a sense of comfort and peace about those they are leaving behind, says Chaplain White. Family strife can really affect a patient’s final days and cause guilt on the part of the surviving family members.
  3. Seek support from hospice nurses, social workers, counselors, chaplains, or other trusted helpers who are specifically trained in hospice care. Though every case is unique, they have walked this road with other families and offer wisdom and experience that will help you cope.
  4. Connect with loved ones. Let them talk to the hospice patient in person or via phone or video calls. Share happy memories together. Find support in each other and your shared memories.

You can provide a peaceful “good death” for your loved one as you cherish past memories and purposely initiate important conversations. Call Heart to Heart Hospice today for invaluable caregiver support and compassionate, dignified care for your terminally ill loved one.