Avoid These Hospice Emotional Landmines

The emotions of hospice care

Joseph S. Wadas, bereavement coordinator and chaplain for Compassus of Savannah, teaches us to recognize and handle the emotions of hospice caregiving.

Anger

Anger is a common and healthy emotion. For some, it's natural to outwardly express anger; while others control their anger and keep it inside.


How to cope

Rather than trying to avoid anger, learn to express it in healthy ways. Simple deep-breathing exercises can channel mounting anger into a calmer state. Humor is a great way to ease the tension of stressful situations.

Grief

Grief

Caregiver grief is real and normal reaction to loss.


How to cope

Know that your feelings are normal and natural. Allow yourself to feel sadness and express it to your loved one as well as to supportive others; pasting on a happy face belies the truth and can be frustrating to the person who knows he or she is ill or dying. Make time for yourself so that you’re living a life outside of caregiving that will support you both now and later.

Guilt

Guilt

Guilt is virtually unavoidable as you try to “do it all.” Caregivers often burden themselves with a long list of “oughts,” “shoulds” and “musts.” Through these lists, caregivers can place unrealistic expectations on themselves and others.


How to cope

Whenever you experience guilt, ask yourself what’s triggering it: A rigid “ought?” An unrealistic belief about your abilities? Recognize that guilt is virtually unavoidable. Because your intentions are good but your time, resources and skills are limited, you’re just plain going to feel guilty sometimes. So try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of beating yourself up over it. Pat yourself on the back for doing the best you can under the circumstances.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness

Protecting yourself is good — to a point. When you’re doing so much, it’s only natural to bristle at suggestions that there might be different or better approaches. This is especially true if you’re feeling stressed, insecure or unsure, hearing comments or criticisms by others or reading information that’s contrary to your views. It can be very natural in these circumstances to be defensive.


How to cope

Try not to take everything you hear personally. Instead of immediately getting cross or discarding others’ input, vow to pause long enough to consider it. Remember the big picture. Is there merit in a new idea, or not? What you’re hearing as a criticism of you might be a well-intentioned attempt to help you and your loved one.

Worry

Worry

A little goes a long way, but sometimes we can’t turn off the fretting. Worry is often rooted in good intentions, love and wanting the best for your loved ones. Whenever we worry about the “what-ifs,” we provide a perverse kind of comfort to the brain: If we’re worrying, we’re engaged and show some control. Of course, that ultimately triggers more worry and upset because it’s engagement without accomplishing anything.


How to cope

If worry is interfering with your daily routine or your nightly sleep, you may need to change your perspective. Is there another way to look at the situation that might be more productive? What is the positive side of the situation? Don’t be shy about seeking out a trained counselor to help you express and redirect obsessive ruminations more constructively.