Pastoral Help For the Entire Family During Terminal Illness

Pastoral Care for the Whole Family

Pastoral Help sometimes does not touch upon the needs of every family member or various feelings that identify the family as a whole.  It is important to meet the needs of the patient’s family while the patient approaches death.
One of the first steps a pastoral caregiver can do is normalize any feelings within the family.  Some family members may be experiencing secondary losses.  They may feel angry at the dying person.  It is important to let them know that this does not make them bad or that this does not mean they do not love their family.  Instead, such emotions should be faced and dealt with in order to prevent guilt and other ambiguous feelings when death does occur for their family member.  There should also be care in preparing the family for death.  The family should be prepared and taught what anticipatory grief is and how they may feel when the death does actually occur.
Second, it is imperative that the pastoral provider ensure that all family members are recognized in their grief.  Too many times, other people and groups that are affected by a death are ignored and left disenfranchised in their grief.
Third, the family needs to have a healthy balance between denial and acceptance.  The pastoral counselor must help certain family members who may experience denial and begin to slowly guide them to acceptance.

Fourth, a pastoral caregiver needs to guide the family into open dialogue with each other.  Better communicating families experience better resilience after a loss than closed and quiet families.  This open communication should also include children.  Children should be told the truth but in accordance with their maturity and understanding of death.
Fifth, the family may need help learning and preparing to say good bye.  Throughout the process of death, the family may be experiencing anticipatory grief.  Through this, thoughts of the final good bye are already forming in their minds.  As a counselor, one can help them better articulate how to express those feelings when the moment of death comes.
Finally, in some cases, the pastoral caregiver also assists with the after death rituals.  It is important to ensure that the whole family has a chance to say farewell and commemorate the death of a loved one at the funeral.  It is important to encourage the attendance of children.
If you are interested in Pastoral Care for families facing death, please review the program.
(Information for this article is from “Helping Grieving People-When Tears Are Not Enough” by J. Shep Jeffreys)
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C