I have a loved one who is dying, and I need support ...

Well, palliative care can help. The World Health Organization defines palliative care as ‘an approach to care that supports the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of a person with a life-limiting illness, and their family and carers’.

I have worked in this area for years. In my experience, palliative care has a major role to play when patients are told active treatment is no longer possible. In fact, palliative care is appropriate at any time during disease progression, as well as end of life care. So how does it work?

Patients may experience shock and disbelief as they come to terms with their situation. Apart from the physical symptoms, there are emotional and relationship factors. Of course, the most critical factor is how the patient comes to terms with loss. There is the loss of life as they know it; but there are losses like mobility as their quality of life decreases.

Hopefully there can be an acceptance, which includes memory-making, relationship building, and reconciliation. There can also be difficult decisions to make; for example, treatment decisions, like remaining at home as long as possible, or moving to hospital. It is a stressful and confusing time.

As well as patient care, counseling can make a difference in supporting family and carers. Naturally, circumstances vary, and there needs to be a different conversation at different times. As the counsellor and family work together, they establish a foundation for the future. In bereavement then, support continues for the family and friends as they enter the complex grief journey.

There are no easy answers, but effective counselling support can help the patient and family find ways of dealing with the challenges.

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