Having a loved one in hospice care is a challenging and stressful experience. The provision of hospice care comes with the recognition that patients are preparing for the end of life, but that family members must continue on after their loved one is gone. This creates what researchers define as a “reciprocity of suffering” rooted in the physical and emotional distress of dealing with a loved one’s eventual passing.1 As a result, family members may become overwhelmed by this process and unsure of where to turn for support. Journaling can help ease stress and create context around the experience of hospice care for families of loved ones in care.
Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), journaling can help people better manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression — all common challenges when a loved one is in hospice.2
Journals make this possible by providing a private outlet for problems, fears, and concerns that individuals may be facing as they see loved ones in hospice. Recording what they think and feel on a day-to-day basis provides both an outlet for stress and can help capture feelings in the moment that family members can later look back for context about their loved one’s experience in hospice — context that might otherwise be lost.
The Role of Journaling When a Loved One is in Hospice
When a loved one is in hospice care, priority is understandably placed on their approaching end of life. From financial discussions to the resolution of family issues and the need to express grief, patients are the center of attention.
For close family members, however, this can be challenging. Already taking time away from their jobs and families to provide in-person support, they may feel left isolated and alone. Journaling for hospice care offers a safe place for family members to explore their thoughts and express their emotions without worrying about the impact on their loved ones.
Starting a journal to record the hospice experience offers several benefits, including:
- Resolving relationships
Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy. In some cases, family members are uncomfortable saying the words out loud, while in others they may experience conflict in trying to find closure for past disagreements before their loved one passes on. Journals provide a safe space to explore feelings and frustrations around saying goodbye and can help family members pinpoint what’s most important when the moment comes.
- Exploring emotional extremes
Journals also provide room for emotional extremes by letting family members work through feelings of guilt, fear, and loneliness in the way that works best for them. Journals are private, personal accounts of experiences, making them safe spaces for expression.
- Processing stressful information
Information about patient prognosis and end-of-life timelines can be stressful and upsetting. Journals provide a place for stream-of-consciousness thoughts that can help family members process this information.
How Hospice Staff Can Help
Journals can offer a way for family members to better understand the hospice experience of their loved one. Hospice staff can answer questions about things patients may have shared, stories they may have told, and treatments they’ve received. This helps family members merge facts and feelings to create journal narratives that can help find closure.
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1 Oxford Medicine, “Social Aspects of Care: Supporting Families in Palliative Care,” February 2016.
2 University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), “Journaling for Mental Health,” 2022.