The role of the family during end-of-life care

Caring for a loved one during the final stages of their life may be an exceptionally challenging experience for the patient’s family and close friends. While palliative care, like the service provided by HospiceWits, certainly helps to make that load a little lighter, the people close to the terminally ill person often wonder how they can contribute.

The involvement of the family is especially important in the context of end-of-life care, and there are definitely ways in which those close to the patient can assist the HospiceWits interdisciplinary team. The most important way in which they can help is simply by being there for their loved one who is experiencing the last part of their lives.

Firstly, the family plays an important part when the team from HospiceWits draws up a patient care plan, as they are able to assist in creating a plan that is in accordance with their loved one’s wishes, and takes all their needs into consideration. Family members are unique contributors in this sense, because they probably have the clearest understanding of just what their loved one wants and needs at this time of their life.

As soon as the way forward has been established, the next of kin need not worry about the medical and psychosocial aspects of their family member’s end-of-life care, as this is undertaken by a highly qualified and experienced team. The family should continually update the care team about the patient’s condition.

With this being said, the siblings, parents or children of the person who is receiving palliative care are essential with regard to supporting their loved one as they reach the end of their life, even if that patient seems unresponsive. By giving and receiving love and reassurance on this last journey, terminally ill patients are assured of the impact and contribution they have made for others over the course of their life. For many patients receiving palliative care, this is something they really want to know as they reflect on their days spent on earth.

Family members can reaffirm their love for the patient by paying regular visits, sharing special memories, holding their hand, providing a comforting touch, and lending a listening ear.

When the patient passes away, the psychosocial support team – who will have been assisting both the patient and their family with mental care services – will provide grief, loss and bereavement counselling to their loved ones, helping them to grieve in a way that still recognises the important part their late loved one played, and celebrates their life.

HospiceWits’ specialist psychosocial team, dubbed Sihlangene (which means “we stand together” in isiZulu), consists of a qualified general practitioner with a postgraduate specialist qualification in palliative medicine, a psychiatric nurse specialist and a diverse group of counsellors hailing from various training backgrounds and with varied experience, together with experienced frontline workers, management and coordinators. Sihlangene’s services utilise a variety of methodology and approaches, and offer one-on-one counselling or family meetings at its offices, online remote counselling via Skype or Zoom as well as telephonic and WhatsApp support.

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