How To Support Someone Whose Family Member is on Hospice

By Lisa Pahl, LCSW 

“Every morning, I go into my mom’s room and I can feel my heart racing. She sleeps with her mouth open, and many mornings she looks like she’s already gone. I wait and wait to see her chest rise. Then I breathe again.”

These are words spoken from the son of a hospice patient awhile back.

He shared with me that this experience of watching her chest rise reminded him of when he had infant children. “It’s that same panicky feeling that I had when my kids were babies.”

He’s not alone. Fear of finding a family member dead is very common, especially when they are on hospice. 

What can we do to support someone who is anxiously awaiting seeing a chest rise and fall in the morning?

Give them space to share openly about this experience. There can be some complicated feelings going on, as sometimes, a person may be ready to die (as is the family), so there may be both relief and sadness when a breath is taken.

I am always grateful when someone is comfortable enough to share these challenging feelings as I recognize how difficult it is for family members to acknowledge. We can support them by can normalizing their experience so they understand that they are not alone. And, reinforcing to them that that two things can be true; wanting suffering to be over and not wanting to lose this person.

When we help the unsaid, difficult things to be shared, we take away some of the intensity of it all. And help to reduce the guilt and other negative feelings that may be present.

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