How can we persuade my mother, who's caring for my dying father, to bring in hospice help?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is caring for my father, who's failing fast. My brother and I want to bring in hospice care, but my mother gets angry whenever we suggest it and accuses us of giving up on Dad. The doctor has made it clear that Dad is dying, yet my mother seems to believe that hospice is going to somehow speed up the process. Any suggestions?

Expert Answer

Wendy Wank is a palliative care nurse practitioner at Hospice by the Bay, in Larkspur, California.

Many people who've never had experience with hospice have misconceptions about what it means. Like your mother, many people believe that involving hospice in a patient's care amounts to a death sentence or that their loved one will die more quickly or won't be properly cared for.

Hospice care does not accelerate the dying process. In fact, some studies show that people who receive hospice care tend to live longer than those who remain in the hospital.
Nor does hospice care mean that your father will simply be left to die. He'll be well cared for at home or another comfortable setting and given medication to relieve pain and other symptoms. The hospice will also provide your father and mother and the rest of your family with spiritual and emotional support, as well as practical help with financial issues and other details.

The hospice approach to death and dying is based on the belief that a dying person will be more comfortable outside of a hospital setting, where he can die in comfort and peace, with those he loves around him.

Of course, your mother's resistance to hospice care is likely a form of denial. She wants to avoid the reality of your father's impending death for as long as she can. This type of wishful thinking is common. Hospice representatives will help your mother come to terms with your father's death and provide bereavement counseling after it occurs.

Perhaps your father's physician could talk to your mother about what hospice care involves. Or, if your mother is receptive, you could arrange for a hospice nurse or representative to sit down with your mother and tell her what to expect.

It might be particularly helpful if someone your mother trusts who has used hospice services could tell your mother about the experience. Most people who turn to hospice during the death of a loved one are eternally grateful for the support it provides.