Dad has incurable cancer and we are considering hospice. No one in our family has dealt with someone dying. What do we need to do or know about before he actually dies, to make this whole event easier for everyone?
Here is a Checklist of things every family should consider when someone is diagnosed with a life-limiting disease, and obviously when considering hospice. Many have already done this even without having a terminal diagnosis! It makes for less anxiety for everyone, and more comfortable, dignified care—leaving families with better memories.
- Everyone in the family should understand no cure is possible and that he is considering hospice (unless he specifically doesn’t want certain people told). However, occasionally some patients can’t handle knowing they have a terminal diagnosis and families request we not tell them; each situation needs to be managed individually.
- The family should discuss with him his preferences for care. A helpful tool for this discussion is The One Slide Project [engagewithgrace.org] – five questions about end-of-life care that everyone should talk about together.
- Complete an Advance Directive (Living Will). This is a legal document which outlines his choices about: artificial hydration [intravenous fluids]; ventilator support; and CPR (CardioPulmonary Resuscitation), etc. You can obtain the form from our hospice, or on-line from https://www.everplans.com/articles/alabama-advance-directive-form.
- Appoint a Healthcare Proxy or Durable (medical) Power of Attorney. This allows someone he trusts to make decisions about his treatment if he is unable to do so. This should also be the primary contact person for hospice or other health care workers.
- Does he want to die at home? Under what circumstances would he prefer to die in hospital? For example, if the hospice was unable to keep him comfortable despite maximum drug therapy, he could be admitted under hospice to palliative care.
- Make funeral arrangements. Does he want to be cremated?
- Complete a property will. Are there specific items he wants given to certain people?
- Anticipate there may be distant family members or well-meaning friends who want more done than what he wants. How will your family manage this?
- Choose a hospice, sooner rather than later. The optimal time is three to six months before death, rather than when a patient becomes bed bound and dies in one to three weeks (see previous articles on hospice eligibility).
If you have decided on hospice, then our staff will help you work through this checklist.