When Juanita, an Amada Senior Care caregiver from Western Massachusetts, arrived to provide hospice care for Becky Robirds* in her family home, she could not help but notice the house’s decoration.
Juanita saw rosaries everywhere, in every room of Becky’s home. She guessed that the Robirds family was devoutly Catholic. She knew upon arrival that Becky’s passing would greatly affect everyone spiritually. Sensing this, Juanita took it upon herself to become Becky’s guardian angel.
“I told her family about an app I have on my phone,” Juanita remembered, “I asked if it would be ok to sit beside Becky and use my app to read the rosary for her. Her family said, ‘Of course!’ So I went to Becky and asked, ‘Can I please pray for you?'”
When families undergo the end of a senior loved one’s life, hospice is where they usually do it with the help of caregivers like Juanita. In our culture, we tend to fear death. Our fear can transfer to the people who are actually in the process of dying. Hospice, or the homes where terminally ill seniors go to live the rest of their lives, can be a breeding ground for this infectious fear unless we avert it and cultivate comfort, as Juanita did for Becky.
Families who are present for an end-of-life situation experience conflicted feelings that do not foster the best environment for their loved one to pass away in. This blog will offer families tools for coping with the hospice process. These strategies, taken from best practices and Juanita’s story, can help you keep a peace of mind until the very end.
Amada Senior Care reiterates the importance of planning for aging matters such as long-term care, estate planning and ending of life not only because it is good to plan ahead, but also because serious problems can arise if planning is never done. Near the end of a senior’s life, important decisions about their dying process must be made and communicated before they become too incapacitated to handle things themselves. A dying senior will often need others to advocate for them as they pass away. Trusted advisors, who will most likely be family, have to know what orders to give health professionals who treat their elders, where and how their senior loved one wants to die, and when to assert their authority to prevent harm. Having serious conversations with your elderly loved ones about these decisions is the best way to plan ahead.
A Family Ordeal
Initially, you might think that hospice is all about the treatment of a patient or senior. The senior’s care is definitely at the forefront of all matters in hospice care, but what eludes some relatives and care providers is the importance of the family around them.
“How very awful it must be to be doing this frightening thing,” said Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain, to Next Avenue, “Not everybody is frightened, but some are – and really want friends and family to be with them. You’re lonely and you don’t feel good and you’re sick and you want the people you love to be with you, but they’re afraid of you.”
The fear and despair level of a family around the dying can be toxic and disturbing in what should be a peaceful event. Families tend to fear both losing their senior loved one and being in the presence of them. The greatest tool in preventing the harm that fear can cause in an end-of-life family ordeal is remembering that everyone, living or dying, is a normal person in a difficult situation. Seeing as the dying tend to have family – above all other matters – on their mind as they pass, family unification is important too.
Juanita practiced sensitivity to these family needs when she cared for Becky.
“When I cared for her, I felt like I was received as a calming force in the room. I wanted to be a blessing for the family,” she said, “As a caregiver in hospice, you’re not only caring for the senior passing away, but their family who is there also. One time, I went and bought the Robirds a roasted chicken, a big salad and a loaf of bread, and they were so happy that I took the time to take care of something they would have had to do themselves while they grieved. Sometimes I got the room just right so that they wouldn’t have to worry about anything. The family appreciated this because they got as much peace of mind as possible.”
Finding the Right Care
Indeed, Juanita exemplifies the ideal care provider who you would want to help in your senior loved one’s end-of-life process. Finding the right care for this difficult job can be done with caregivers like Juanita and agencies like Amada Senior Care. Doing so takes time and informed decision-making by the senior’s family. When we asked Juanita what made her successful at her job in hospice, she said everything you should know:
“I’d say caring for seniors in hospice gives you a deeper, tougher connection. You know you are one of the last people who they will see. So, I always try to make seniors and families comfortable physically and emotionally during the dying process. That’s what’s most important to the patient and family. Next, it’s also important to know that I am going in to do a job. I don’t have a set outlook. I go with the flow. I gently ask questions but communicate what my role is. It would be the worst thing to take complete charge and dictate the situation. Every family is different. Caregivers should take cues from their surroundings and families in hospice care to decide how to act.”
Learning from Juanita’s example, it’s clear that a caregiver who offers guiding support will be least abrasive to your sensitive situation during a senior loved one’s passing. Find a caregiver who will show tact, grace and respect to your elder just as much as she does to your family.
Learning to Live While Dying
“This condition is humanity at its most raw, its most vulnerable. it is frightening, but viewed in a different way, it is incredibly beautiful. What is left is the essence of self. The inside is the outside. And don’t worry. You’ll wear it well.”
These words about dying are written by Bruce H. Kramer, a former college dean who struggled through a losing battle with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He said to Minnesota Public Radio, “I found that by embracing it, it actually has become, in many ways, a friend. when you embrace your death, it just opens up vistas for you. Things mean much more to you because you know they’re passing.”
Life while dying is either toned negatively in despair or positively with gratefulness and appreciation. This goes for both dying seniors and their families because both might experience regret for dying too soon or thankfulness for a full life. Living while dying may take parts of either outlook, but time will carry on nevertheless, and everyone is faced with the choice to make the most of it.
Learning to live while dying means grasping life for all that it is in the final moments. Families can do this by treasuring the company they keep with dying senior loved ones, sharing memories, healing old wounds and assuring the dying that everything will be okay when they pass on. Seniors at the end of their lives can still learn to live by reveling in the kindness others around them offer, sharing their personal selves with others and appreciating the care of providers who will be there every step of the way.
Holding on or Letting Go
With advanced healthcare technology, seniors’ lives are prolonged in good ways and bad ways. Yes, a longer life is appealing to all of us. But seniors who might have to undergo prolonged life in the dying process may have to do it under dire circumstances. Especially if seniors are too incapacitated to communicate their dying process preferences, families who want to hold on to their loved ones may order their increased treatment. This treatment might be invasive, inhumane and even deadly.
Families must have serious conversations about hospice treatment or palliative care with their elderly loved ones. They must also come to a consensus about the decisions they make. These decisions should be accurately communicated with healthcare providers who will be in charge of treatment during the dying process. With assured direction no matter what may happen as a senior loved one dies, families will be able to focus on their quality time with the senior instead of bickering over their treatment. Most importantly, knowing when to hold on or to let go can give seniors the most comfortable, peaceful passing possible.
A senior loved one passing away may have lived a life to contentment and may have no further wishes before they die. But asking your senior loved one if they do can mean the entire world to them. Discover the priorities of your elder as they near the end of their lives to see if you can make their wishes possible. They might request a final treat, like their favorite meal or a visit to the ocean. They might want to find a lost connection and make amends. They also might want to update their will. While you have the chance to communicate with a dying loved one, be accepting, realistic and willing to execute their final wishes.
You are not Alone
Juanita was highly praised and valued for her guardianship over Becky Robirds, the Robirds family and several other senior citizens. In February of 2017, she was honored as a Caregiver of the Year nominee at the Amada Senior Care Franchise annual conference. She deserved this honor not only because she was a rock for multiple families in need, but because she exemplified the message Amada Senior Care wants to give you: you are not alone in your experience with hospice. Whether you are the patient nearing the end of your life or the family preparing for it, you can keep your peace of mind with the right help.
“I knew that praying for Becky brought her peace,” Juanita said, “If the job is done right, you will know you did your job. As a caregiver for Becky, I have no regrets knowing I did all I could for her. I’m a little sad because you get close to the people you care for, but I know I did my job.”
Juanita went on to provide Becky’s care for 12-hour shifts until she passed away. When the time came, she alerted the entire family and left them the room to give them privacy. As she waited, she heard the familiar words of the rosary as the room-full of people prayed peacefully over Becky.
To find the right caregiver for you in your family’s end-of-life process, find an Amada Senior Care location near you.
*Names have been changed.
“End-of-Life Peace of Mind: Family Tools for Hospice,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.
Paul Hillsburg, owner of Amada Senior Care in Western Massachusetts