Hospice Care: Dealing with Family Conflict

When a loved one has a serious illness, it is natural for family to gather to spend time together and provide support.

Family dynamics are complex and unique. However, the potential for conflict multiplies under the stress of a dying family member. Below is some advice for sample situations when conflict between families is common.

Entering Hospice Care

When a person is terminally ill, family members often disagree about the best medical course of action. Some family members might be against hospice care and see it as “giving up.” This belief is often compounded by the grief of coming to terms with the fact that their loved one is dying.

If a family member is against your loved one entering hospice care, explain to them why the decision is being made. Regardless of the circumstances, the decision to enter hospice care almost always comes down to quality of life. Explain to your family member that hospice will help your loved one be more comfortable by providing relief from pain and discomfort.

If your family member is still upset, it may be helpful to have them meet with someone from your loved one’s hospice team. Oftentimes, anger and frustration arise from a lack of understanding. There are many myths surrounding hospice and palliative care, and hospice professionals are well-equipped to both dispel those myths and explain the benefits of hospice care.

Caring for Your Loved One

Regardless of whether your loved one is unable to make their own health care decisions, disagreements about the right types of comfort care are common between family members. For example, whether to continue providing food and what types of pain medications to use (if any) are two common areas of conflict.

These decisions rest with either the patient or, if they are not able to make their own health care decisions, their designated health care power of attorney. Still, others are likely to have an opinion regarding the best course of action. At times, the primary decision-maker may want input from others, and at other times, he or she may need to set a boundary, by saying ‘This is not open for discussion.”

If a family member is contentious about a particular decision, it is best to speak with them privately. Calmly explain that while you understand their position, the decision is final. Explain that everyone wants what’s best for your loved one, and that this decision has been determined to be the best course of action. If you feel uncomfortable confronting your family member, or if they have questions that you can’t answer, reach out to your hospice social worker, chaplain, nurse or doctor.

If you have questions about hospice care, or if you or your loved one is struggling with a serious illness, call the HPCG Referral Center at 336.621.7575