• Chinese;
  • dying;
  • family care;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • palliative care

Aim.  To describe and understand the experiences of Chinese family members of terminally ill patients during the end of life process in a palliative care unit.

Background.  Palliative care aims to provide care to dying patients and their family members. Skillful interventions are necessary to help family members cope with the impending death of the patient and maintain their emotional equilibrium. Hence, it is important to understand the experiences of family members of palliative care.

Design.  A phenomenological study was conducted. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews. We interviewed a purposive sample of 20 family members of terminally ill patients in a palliative care unit in Hong Kong. The data were analysed following Colaizzi's phenomenological methodology.

Results.  Family members experienced anticipatory grief, with reactions that included anger, unease, sadness and helplessness. This was particularly acute when the patient was first admitted to the palliative care unit. However, the family members quickly accepted the reality and committed themselves to the care of the patient, seeking informational and emotional support from the nurses. The families wanted to be assured that the patient had been offered good care and suffered no pain. It was considered important to be with the patient during the dying process.

Conclusion.  This study demonstrated that Chinese family members were committed to the care of the patients in the palliative care unit. Cultural beliefs played a part in influencing family emotions and concerns.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This study offers a direction for family interventions that acknowledge the reactions of family members to the admission of a patient to a palliative care unit. It highlights that families need active informational and emotional support from nurses.