The calendar page turned over to a new year, but you may not feel like celebrating if you’re in the middle of caring for a loved one on hospice. A “Happy New Year” seems daunting as you continue to face the sometimes mundane, sometimes ever-changing burden of caregiving. You could be holding your breath due to your loved one’s impending death or experiencing deep sorrow from a recent loss.
How do you navigate a new year with a loved one on hospice? As a caregiver or patient, can you actually set goals and resolutions? The answer is “yes!” as you consider some of the suggestions below.
In a season of caregiving, letting go of normal or exceptional goals for yourself is understandable, but that doesn’t mean you need to abandon goals altogether. Ensure you are prioritizing self care, such as eating well, staying hydrated, and getting exercise even if it’s short walks around the block. Set a time weekly or monthly to explore a hobby, such as art, baking, gardening, or meeting with friends.
Reevaluate with your hospice team.
If you are several weeks or months into hospice care, talk with your hospice nurse to see if any changes are needed in your loved one’s care plan or goals. With Medicare, a reevaluation period happens every 90 days, but taking stock of the patient’s status and goals more frequently is wise. They may still have some independence, so explore what’s possible such as participating in a hobby, attending events, completing a bucket-list item, or even taking a trip. It’s healthy to dream and plan. Ask about creative therapies, like music or pet therapy, that could provide a happy distraction for you and your loved one.
As a caregiver, one of your goals should be to accept help. Even if it’s a few hours a week, let a family member, hospice aide, or volunteer give you a break. Work with a trusted hospice chaplain, social worker, or outside support group or counselor to work through your grief. Explore short-term respite care if you are on the verge of burnout. After loss, accept bereavement support.
There’s evidence that hearing is the last sense to go, even in unresponsive patients who are dying. Keep talking to your loved one. Share happy memories and positive life updates. If your loved one is still interacting, record special memories and have conversations that will help you avoid regret. Make amends if possible. Use conversation prompts like those in Heart to Heart Hospice’s Memory Journal. Invite family members to come show their love and appreciation.
Death is inevitable for all of us, so denying the reality and difficulty of your loved one’s terminal illness won’t help you or them. Denial is a natural part of grief, but lingering there too long will only cause anger or paralyze you from taking action and seeking help. Helping your loved one achieve a “good death” as their illness runs its natural course is possible.
Being intentionally thankful isn’t just a band-aid during a hard season. A Harvard Health Publishing article cites studies that show “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” While gratitude doesn’t turn the tide of terminal illness, it helps you deal with grief. Some suggestions include the following:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write a list every day or once a week of specific gifts or blessings, like a kind interaction, great nurses, or a good meal.
- Thank someone. Write a note or verbally express appreciation — the more specific, the more meaningful. If you don’t have time in this season to send a note, write it down so you’ll remember their kindness.
- Pray or meditate. Connections outside of yourself help bring perspective and comfort.
- Share gratitude with your loved one on hospice. Communicate appreciation for their impact in your life. If they express guilt over being a burden, reassure them that your caregiving is out of gratitude and love for them.
As the new year begins, you don’t need to feel completely out of control when your loved one nears the end of life. Hospice care helps ensure the best quality of life no matter how many days remain. Find comfort care for medical needs, caregiver education, and spiritual and emotional support for your journey.