What is Palliative Care and Hospice?

If you have been told that your loved one is terminally ill, this article will help you identify palliative care, hospice, advanced care planning, Five Wishes, and questions to ask during this difficult time. Let’s first look at palliative care,which helps individuals improve their quality of life by providing prevention and relief of suffering, early identification, holistic assessment and treatment of pain, and support for physical, psychosocial, spiritual and bereavement issues (WHO, 2008).  Hospice, on the other hand, offers care when curative medical treatments no longer enhance quality of life. Although Hospice is most often provided only at the very end of the terminal illness, it can be provided at any point once the patient is told they are terminally ill. The Hospice Medicare Benefit specifies the services to be provided to Medicare beneficiaries who choose to receive hospice care if they have a medical prognosis with a life expectancy of 6 months or less if the illness runs its normal course (www.hospicefoundation.org)

What is Advance Care Planning?

You might be struggling with whether or not to tell your loved one that he or she is dying. As a hospice bereavement coordinator I helped many families break the bad news. Ira Byock, author of The Four Things That Matter Most, maintains that people who are aware they are dying, can improve relationships in their life by saying: Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you and good-bye. In anticipation of death, advance care planning is essential if a person’s preferences for end-of-life care are to be communicated and honored.

Advance care planning involves decision making, expressing treatment preferences, and completing documents that communicate the patient’s values and beliefs for their health care when they can no longer speak for themselves. An important conversation is medical power of attorney which is a health care proxy or health care surrogate. It allows your loved one to name a representative to make health care decisions on their behalf should he or she become physically or mentally incapacitated. Is that person you?

What Does Your Loved One Wish For?

Do you remember as a child asking for three wishes? Well now you have an opportunity to ask for five. Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. Five Wishes is available at Aging with Dignity, and will guide your loved ones who are terminally ill in speaking with their loved ones about their wishes should they not be able to speak (http://www.agingwithdignity.org). Five Wishes lets the family and doctors know:

  • Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
  • The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
  • How comfortable you want to be.
  • How you want people to treat you.
  • What you want your loved ones to know.

20 Questions to Ask Your Terminally Ill Loved One

As a Bereavement Coordinator for hospice, I was privileged to sit at the bedside of many terminally ill patients and asked them the following questions. Look over the list and use the questions as a guide for the conversation you will have with your loved one. 

  1. Do you feel as though you are being including in your health care decisions?
  2. What are you most afraid of?
  3. What are you most worried about?
  4. Do you worry about becoming a burden to anyone in particular?
  5. Is there anything that is making you feel uncomfortable?
  6. What is most difficult about leaving your loved ones behind?
  7. What do you think will happen to your loved ones after your death?
  8. Are there any relationships you want to mend?
  9. What tasks do you need to complete before you die?
  10. Would you prefer to die at home or in the hospital?
  11. What does a good death mean to you?
  12. What brings you the greatest sense of comfort?
  13. What are you most proud of?
  14. Do you have any regrets?
  15. What cultural beliefs sustain you?
  16. What is your role in the family?
  17. What role has faith played during your illness?
  18. Is there one thing that you want to pass along to those left behind?
  19. What does your illness mean to you?
  20. What is the meaning of your life?

My hope is that this article has helped you with some of the issues you are facing. Open to Hope has many other articles on coping with loss. Take the time to read what you can and know that you are not alone. 

Barbara Rubel, MA, BCETS, CBS

Barbara Rubel

Barbara Rubel, BS, MA, BCETS, DAAETS, is a nationally recognized author and keynote speaker and trainer on increasing self-awareness of skills and strengths that improve the ability to handle job burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma. Barbara’s programs motivate professionals to build personal resilience. Barbara is the author of the book, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye and the 30-hour continuing education course book for Nurses, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement: Helping individuals cope (4th ed.). She is a contributing writer in Thin Threads: Grief and renewal; Open to Hope’s Fresh Grief; Coaching for results: Expert advice from 25 Top international coaches; and Keys to a Good Life: Wisdom to unlock your power within. Barbara was featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Fatal Mistakes: families shattered by suicide, narrated by Mariette Hartley. She also developed the Palette of Grief® Program: Understanding Reactions after a Traumatic Death Barbara’s background includes working as a hospice bereavement coordinator and serving as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, where she taught undergraduate and masters-level courses in Death, Life and Health; Children and Death; Health Crisis Intervention; and Health Counseling. She currently is a consultant with the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime and co-wrote their training curriculum, Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma. Barbara received a BS in Psychology and MA in Community Health, with a concentration in thanatology, from Brooklyn College. She is a board-certified expert in traumatic stress and diplomat with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

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