Hospice and Palliative Care

The term hospice has its origins going back to ancient times and having a very different meaning from the modern word. Since the 1960’s the Hospice movement has been committed to using a compassion based approach to the terminally ill. Usually hospice work and palliative care combine counseling either spiritual or secular in nature in combination with doctor prescribed pain medications in a team based approach to attempt to limit the suffering and relieve the pain of the terminally ill. By providing expert medical care emotional support and counseling and for those who wish it spiritual support, the hospice or palliative care worker helps the patient have a right to a death that incorporates dignity and attempts to relieve for the patient and their family the emotional trauma that end of life experiences can bring.

The main functions of the Hospice or Palliative Care worker can be summarized as follows:

  • Works with medical professionals to provide access to pain relief medications
  • Works to make sure the patient and their family has a feeling of life affirmation and sees death as a normal part of life
  • Allows for the dying process to proceed by neither speeding up nor slowing down the process.
  • Gives the patient access to both emotional and spiritual support and counseling
  • Works with patient to ensure that they are able to live life as fully as possible within their physical capabilities
  • Creates a support system for the families to deal with their feelings of grief around the death of the patient

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As demographics shift and a greater and greater portion of the country enters the elder years, the need for the palliative care and hospice worker will only rise. Everyone has a right to a death with dignity and access to both pain relieving medicine, compassionate support, emotional and spiritual counseling. By providing support to ensure the patient has a full life for their remaining time on earth, the palliative care and hospice worker helps the patient enjoy the time they have left. This is very life affirming and can have a profoundly positive impact on both the patient and their family and loved ones.

The Palliative care and Hospice worker also provides critical support for the families of the terminally ill. This is important both for the families themselves but also for the patient as many who are facing death find themselves consumed with worry for the psychological and emotional well-being of their loved ones. When the terminally ill know that this aspect of life is being attended to, they can then more fully embrace their dying process with a sense of peace, grace and dignity.

In our society, death and dying is often pushed to the periphery of human experience, due to this when people are confronted with their own mortality or that of a loved one, they can find that they are at a loss as to how to respond. Often the feelings of grief and fear that arise can be paralyzing and can lead to a tremendous diminishment of the quality of life. The impact on the individual of palliative and hospice care is impossible to quantify. However, those who have seen hospice work done know of the profound impact emotionally, physically and spiritually on both the dying and their loved ones. We all must eventually face our own mortality and with the help of hospice and palliative care workers, we are far more likely to be able to make the transition peacefully and with the highest degree of dignity.

The impact on family members is also extremely significant. In times past where palliative and hospice care was not available, families would often experience profound disruptions due to the intense grief, anger, despair, sadness and fear that would arise for those facing their own mortality while simultaneously seeing a loved one die. This had a large ripple effect on society as a whole. Now with the advent of hospice and palliative care, the families of the dying can now have a support system and access to counseling that can have a profoundly beneficial effect on their emotional and even physical well-being. For those who have been involved with a terminally ill family member and have been supported by hospice and palliative care workers, the experience is impossible to quantify, but the benefits are immeasurable.