Facing the end-of-life of a loved one or a family member tends to raise the stress level of the would-be survivors. There are decisions that must be made in cooperation with the medical team and there is the weight of knowing that decisions will need to be made post-medical care. Healing has decisions that must be made and dying has its own set of decisions that must be made.
It is easier for the family if they can cooperate together for the sake and outcome of the dying patient. As a chaplain I’ve seen conflict arise in a hospital room for a number of reasons, including when siblings have been in conflict prior to the end-of-life condition or when there is disagreement over a treatment plan or if family dynamics are contentious because of remarriages.
A high stress level combined with family conflict and disagreement with medical recommendations, can act as fuel in igniting a fire that keeps the conflict alive. So moments around the loved-one in the hospital or in hospice care are filled with conflict rather than a focus on the loved one’s care.
For these times, I would like to suggest three ways to help avoid conflict or at least lessen the conflict.
First, don’t feed the existing conflict by starting or joining into the fight. If a sibling or family member is being abrasive, resist fighting back. They may just need to learn how to process their grief over the imminent death and sometimes people go straight to aggressive or angry expressions of their sorrow. Maintaining a calming spirit around the patient is usually what’s best for them.
Second, talk about the memories. When family starts to talk about and share with other the memories they have regarding the loved one it helps everyone appropriately process their grief. Reflecting on those good memories is one way the family can keep the loved-one alive, by reliving something they said or once did. Talking about the memories are reminiscent and assuring that the loved one has influenced and contributed to the survivor’s life.
Third, arrange for a spiritual ritual. Request your church pastor or hospice/hospital chaplain to come offer a prayer for your loved one with the family present. A good time to do this is when death is imminent or just after death. A prayer, with a hymn or a lit candle or communion service, from a minister is a good way to change the focus from medical to spiritual and that builds a future for family to think of their loved one in God’s care and no longer in medical care and any pain.
Every person and family is different, so these issues may not be yours or fit with your family. However, I do hope this may stimulate some other ideas when conflict arises at the end-of-life for a loved one.
Having shared these things, it is possible that conflict can be completely avoided at time of death and not known in the family until after death, and that is something I may deal with next.