The term ‘caregiver’ refers to all those providing direct support to someone with a life-threatening illness. This includes family and friends, volunteers, counsellors, doctors, nurses, personal care aides, spiritual counsellors and friends. The ‘primary’ caregiver is usually a family member who knows the needs and wishes of the person who is ill and is responsible for coordinating support services.

Often, primary caregivers want to provide all the care for their family member themselves. However, the illness may be lengthy so it may be necessary for the primary caregiver to set limits and to seek help in order to prevent exhaustion. Home care help is available from hospice and home care agencies. Caregivers are encouraged to take special care of themselves to ensure they will be able to provide the love and understanding that gives meaning to their care giving.

Suffering can be a physical, emotional or spiritual crisis. By responding to the deepest needs of their loved ones, caregivers are able to assist in the dying process on an individual’s own terms. This is perhaps the truest meaning of hospice palliative care.