“Each one of us has the need to avoid this issue, yet each one of us has to face it sooner or later. If all of us could make a start by contemplating the possibility of our own death, we may effect many things, most important of all the welfare of our patients, our families and finally perhaps our nation.”
— On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D.
Creating a better world by acknowledging our own mortality seems a lofty goal. That said, during the years I worked in hospice care I heard many stories of people who considered their terminal diagnosis a “gift” which brought into perspective those things that most mattered to them and forced them into open, honest conversations about what they wanted to achieve in the weeks and months before their death. My co-workers in hospice were passionate about helping patients along that journey.
During my time with hospice, long before I joined Homesteaders, I learned that funeral home owners and funeral service professionals share that passion when it comes to encouraging those in their communities to have open, honest conversations about death and dying. To this day, that understanding leads me to encourage funeral service professionals to explore the many options for joining with the end-of-life care providers in their communities to spread the word.
Simply put, no one in your community shares your interest in starting conversations about death and dying in quite the way hospice professionals do.
Certainly, there are differences of opinion and even occasional conflict between funeral and hospice professionals. But let’s look at some core philosophies in hospice care and determine how they correspond to funeral service. Hospice professionals believe:
- The patient and family should direct care.
- The patient and the family are the “unit” of care.
- The grief and bereavement process should be honored.
- It’s vital to honor, recognize and celebrate the patient’s life.
- Planning ahead for the end-of-life experience is beneficial and allows wishes to be honored.
It seems clear that if you take out the word “patient” and instead think about the families you serve, each of these statements could be made about your philosophy of care. Now more than ever, funeral service professionals are striving to meet the unique needs of families. Your efforts include:
- Personalizing services through activities such as hosting memorials off-site, creating video and photo tributes, staging personal memorabilia in the funeral home, etc.
- Focusing on aftercare for surviving family members.
- Hosting grief support groups and establishing bereavement libraries.
- Growing your preneed programs to provide families with options for making their wishes known.
This “common purpose” shared by hospices and funeral service providers creates opportunities and occasional conflict. While most of the stories I hear are about positive, productive relationships, there are times when funeral service professionals fear their local hospice may be overstepping or becoming too involved in guiding families through the funeral planning process. Other expressed concerns include that the local hospice is referring families exclusively to a competitor, encouraging families to forego funeral home services or trying to negotiate discounts or no-cost services on behalf of patients.
How can you take advantage of the opportunities and overcome or even prevent the occasional conflict? Take the first step and reach out to your local hospice organizations. Those relationships will not only help increase your reach in the community, but also build a foundation for open and honest discussion when conflicts do arise.
The best way to start is to pick up the phone. The hospice CEO, community relations manager or development director are typically open to developing relationships. Here are a few ideas to consider discussing with hospice professionals:
- Funeral home tours and educational opportunities for hospice staff and volunteers.
- Shared bereavement materials and other resources.
- Co-sponsored activities or events.
- Volunteering as a hospice board member or in other roles.
- Hosting "meet and greets" for funeral home and hospice staff members who are most likely to be working together.
However you approach it, be sure to take advantage of this shared interest in spreading the word about the importance of open, honest conversations on death and dying. To learn more about building mutually beneficial relationships with your local hospice, read Part 1 and Part 2 of our blog series on this topic.
Kim Medici Shelquist is the Senior VP – Planning & Development for Homesteaders Life Company. In her previous position as a hospice professional, she encouraged people to discuss their wishes to ensure they had the best possible end-of-life experiences that reflected their values. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.