Fear at the End of Life
April 5, 2019 / Reid M. Jacobs, APHSW-C, MSW
Death can be a scary thing, but the fears can be different for every person. For some, there is a fear of the unknown. We can’t say with certainty what happens after a person dies because there is no one to ask who has already made that journey, although near death experiences may provide some insight. Many religions have teachings on what happens to the soul when we die. This can be a great comfort to the dying person and their families alike. Knowing that a person will go to heaven and be relieved of suffering and reunited with family provides hope. However, this isn’t a universal sentiment.
For some, there is guilt from their past deeds or wrongdoings. They may fear going to hell or some other punishment in the afterlife. Others may question whether they have lived a good enough life to be accepted into heaven. These fears can lead to a spiritual or existential crisis. Even people who are no longer able to verbally communicate can experience this. This may come from in the form of restlessness or agitation. They may fidget or kick repeatedly, reposition frequently, or pick clothes and bedding, though these may have other underlying causes too. Hospice staff can help by identifying the cause and our spiritual coordinators and social workers are trained and experienced in supporting people in these crises.
The threat of pain is another common fear that terminally ill people fear. Pain may come from a number of sources: the terminal illness, worsening chronic conditions, side-effects from aggressive treatments, or a combination of these. Hospice staff are uniquely suited to address and manage pain. Sometimes the pain can be prevented. If it’s not, hospice physicians and nurses have a lot of interventions to use and not just ever-increasing doses of morphine and opioids. Other types of medications can treat pain and even non-medical interventions can be utilized to great effect.
Hospice also recognizes the fears that family and friends may face when someone important to them is dying or has already died. These fears might be related to concerns about heaven and hell, but fear can also come from the prospect of facing grief and adapting to the loss. Learning to be on one’s own after years of marriage, for example, can be daunting. Navigating the grief process and bearing the sheer weight of sadness are scary to contemplate. Because of this, hospice provides grief support to family and friends for at least a year after a hospice patient dies. We also provide grief support to anyone experiencing a bereavement, even if the deceased person never received hospice care. It’s an important service that we can provide to the community.
While fear at the end of life is common, its underlying causes can be addressed to help reduce the fear and the suffering it may bring. Fear may be unique to each person, but they don’t have to face that fear alone.
If you’d like more information of how hospice or our bereavement services can help you or someone you care about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office directly at 818-559-1460