How can I help my son accept the fact that Hospice care is needed?

6 answers | Last updated: Nov 03, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 32 year old son is the primary caregiver of my mother who is in the last stages of her life. He has lived with her for ten years, but only in the last six months has she declined to the point of wearing diapers and needing help in all aspects of personal care. I am a teacher so I have been helping several times a day all summer. This past week, my son's dog died and he is heartsick and grieving. To top it off, my mom had to go to the hospital for several days because she was bleeding internally. (She has been battling lymphoma for nine years.) We have decided to place her on Hospice care, but I am not sure it will be enough help. My son is normally a very quiet person and somewhat keeps to himself, yet he is sweet and thoughtful in his care of my mother. Now he will barely say anything to anyone because he is mourning his pet. I don't know how to help him. He wants my mother at home but I am concerned this will be a lot to ask of him at this time. He has made it clear that he does not want her in a nursing home. I am an only child and having my son's help and care for my mother and my father,when he was living, has been a blessing. I won't be able to help much any more because school is starting and I can't just walk away from my students at the beginning of the year. I think my son is having difficulty accepting the Hospice care because it sends the message that my mother's life is about to end. I don't know how to help him. Any suggestions?

Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

First, you have much reason to be proud. You have done a wonderful job raising a fine person. Your son is kind and loyal; it is a wonderful combination of traits. It sounds like he has the maturity to make his own decision about what role he should play in caring for his grandmother. To make such a decision, however, he needs information. He should be told about his grandmother's illness and how it is likely to progress. It is important that he understand what complications are likely and what will be needed from her caregiver. This information can be provided by her physician or perhaps by the people at Hospice. Several questions also need to be addressed. The first is whether it is best for your mom to be at home with a family member, or whether she needs more care than can be provided in her home and would be better served in a facility with 24-hour professional care. The second question is what would your mother prefer. The third question is whether your son has the knowledge and psychological tools to manage what is required of his grandmother's caretaker, and whether this is in his best interest. Once the two of you have the answers to the first two questions, your son will need to think through the answer to question 3. I would strongly encourage him, perhaps with you, to get advice from people he trusts, from the professionals at Hospice, and/or to consider a session with a mental health professional to carefully evaluate what is best both for his grandmother and himself.

If your son decides to be the caregiver for your mom, I would encourage you to get information about respite options that would give him some breaks from caretaking. This includes some breaks during the day so he can replenish his energy. It is also going to be critical he have some help at night if she is having trouble sleeping. No one does well if his or her sleep is persistently interrupted.

In order to decide whether to accept Hospice care, I would suggest you and your son meet together with someone from Hospice. Hopefully they can explain to him what is it Hospice has to offer. They are experts in helping people maintain their dignity and comfort through a process that can be harsh and painful. I would anticipate that once he understands their intent, he will be more comfortable accepting their help. If he decides against using Hospice assistance now, at least he will know what could be available down the road.

Community Answers

Joyg answered...

Right here on this site is an excellent long article that fully explains hospice. Both of you should read it.

My husband is in a memory support unit and a doctor recommended I call in hospice. It was a hard decision for me to make, however it has been a true blessing. He is in what is called palative care, where they provide resources for comfort that I didn't even know existed. They know about special beds, mattresses, chairs, and provide lots of counsel for me. Right now I could not be coping without them, and my husband is so much better off because of their involvement. Please make an appointment with an agency for both you and your son.

Timdalland answered...

I myself was blessed with having to care for my mother her last 5years of her life,i say blessed ,because to me at the time id been away much of my adult life with her. When the time came ,i told my mom that we take care of our own ,when insurance reasons she had to leave a nursen home she was in. In a since ,i gave my life up and career to provide my mom with what was the best 5yrs of my life too for her,as the time came near and she realized too that the cancer had spread hospice at 1st no way to the ideal of her wish to die at home,but after coming to our home and seeing how much she was loved by all they changed their minds ,and also with my being her caregiver i simply stated you all can either stay and provide the simple task of applying pain meds or because that is all iwanted from them id do what was and had been my duty from day one!With that said and the fact it was it or nothing our last days with her were something that most people dont witness as being something not so much as grief but spirtaul ,i say that in knowing 2 weeks before things start to slow down maining her sleeping and now and again picking cotten as its known ,but i called it my moms rearranging her shelves ,i had talked to my mom one on one and asked her to let me know that final moment the big guy was taking over and she was happy. DO you know her last breath ,she smiles the biggest grin,from that moment all of time with her until then was fullfilled and i had been witness to our god in heaven making her welcomed in his kingdom and with that it made me realize how much death can be a wondermeant of dreams come true and i had been given that live on to share with all still to this day and on so please have ur son read my story and he shall see how life is more too he can ever ever realize thank you and god be with you amen!!!!!

Joyg answered...

Just because a person is in a hospice setting does not mean that the family is not doing all it can for their loved one. I also enjoy the closeness, give him meds, help to feed him, and am giving he tons of love. We are spiritually connected and we talk about his transition to a better place. This can take place in a home or in a different setting and you can still have the same amount of time with them and a true close connection. And I am able to take good care of my self therefore I have a lot more energy to offer. No need for the entire family to give in to the illness.

Greenriverkate answered...

They sent my sister to a hospice and she totally freaked out. Her anger was like I have never seen in her 60 years. We brought her home and her son came, I came and had her husband. But what we had that saved all of us, we had each other and hospice care. We interviewed hospice people before my sister decided which one she liked and trusted. Her son would leave for a couple days to work and her husband would try and do some work in the shed and I'd stay with her, cook whatever she felt hungry for, cleaned as she slept and did whatever I could to ease her frustration being bedridden. Her husband kept her in bed but we felt she should keep trying to walk around the house once a day til SHE decided she was too weak. We took turns laying in bed with her while she watched tv or talked. The last 3 weeks were hell on us but we had hospice to come immediately to check and keep us informed as to the dying process. My sister was waiting for her daughter to call but she never did so we lied to her and told her that she called and she died that night. She woke before she went to tell her husband she loved him. She also talked to many people in her room with conversations from one to the other and we just let her go. She would come back for a second or so to tell me things but I have no idea what she was trying to tell me except it was urgent. She was the last of my family and it was the hardest thing I have ever done as I raised her. I have never forgiven her daughter and never will. But I worked in nursing homes and would never put any of my family in there or a hospice. That is just me. It is a personal decision that you must live with the rest of your life so let the son make the final decision as he is an adult

Surviver06 answered...

I coordinate hospice services and I just want to add that without family and friends our loved ones would not be able to survive. You are the backbone to the care of each person. Hospice is additional support to the family even more so than to the patients. We assist families with services. But family adn friends are the caregivers. We teach and provide needed medication and supplies. But without the caregiving patients have a dificult time. Remember to interview several hospice organizations before deciding on one. You always have the right to change if something doesn't feel right or you don't feel your loved one is being taken care of. NOW not only do I work for hospice I am also a survivor of Breast Cancer. Being a patient and knowing that feeling and thoughts of dying. I know with all my heart I would want my family to have the support of hospice before and after my passing. Rememeber everyone handles dying differently. Some are at your side and caring for you day to day and others are not able to emotionally handle seeing the suffering and stay away. My daughter ran my son rubbed my bald head. They are different people so allow each person to grieve in the way they can. Don't judge them for there outward reactions. The pain could be much greater in the one that is distant.