by Norma Gaetani
“It’s time to put your affairs in order.”
This euphemism conveys a dramatic message in TV shows or films, but it is also practical advice for patients and families served by Freda H. Gordon Hospice & Palliative Care of Tidewater (HPCT). However, it is not always easy advice to follow. Regardless of how the message is delivered, a terminal diagnosis can trigger a host of overpowering emotions. In fact, the fear, anger and grief that inevitably follow, often combined with confusion about what needs to be done, can make it next to impossible.
Still, that is exactly what social workers Carolyn Lempert and Meital Jakubovitz help people do. As an integral part of the hospice team, they use their case-management skills to help patients and families put their social, financial, familial and emotional “affairs in order.”
Built on many of the same values upheld by Judaism: the value and dignity of each human life, the social work profession recognizes the connections we have to each other, and empowers people to care for themselves and assist each other. Such training prepared Lempert and Jakubovitz to apply these principles across diverse faiths, cultures, ages, and circumstances, an essential skill for hospice work.
The social workers’ involvement starts with the admission process, where they sometimes must help clients and their families decide whether hospice is the appropriate choice. Then, they provide both practical and emotional support and guidance, continuing through the 13 months of bereavement services that HPCT provides families after their loss. As with many hospice jobs, their role is not always clear-cut; they must be responsive to the family’s specific needs.
Some families need assistance with financial or administrative tasks—finding sources of financial aid such as Veteran’s Benefits or Medicaid, organizing extra support for caregivers or helping with funeral plans. For others, the needs are different.
Lempert says that with some patients, “I try to provide emotional support and review the good and bad aspects of their lives.” She also tunes in to family stressors. “Family members are often grieving the loss of their loved one even before the patient passes. Helping them recognize their own symptoms of grief and assisting their mental processing of events is crucial.”
There are many ways that hospice social workers use their training to identify and address ways that families can “put their affairs in order.” They exemplify traditional Jewish reverence for life in all its stages, using their skills and compassion to ease the burdens on patients and families during one of life’s most difficult junctures.
—Norma Gaetani is a freelance writer, editor and hospice volunteer in Virginia Beach, Va.