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J Palliat Med. 2012 Oct;15(10):1113-9. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2012.0138. Epub 2012 Jul 31.

Forgiveness, depressive symptoms, and communication at the end of life: a study with family members of hospice patients.

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  • 1Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7123, USA.



Forgiveness has begun to receive empirical attention in end-of-life contexts, but primarily among patients. This study examined forgiveness issues and communication priorities among family members of hospice patients.


Surveys were distributed to family members of home-care patients in a large not-for-profit hospice in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Family members wrote what they would like to say to patients before they died. They also rated the importance of several expressions (love, gratitude, giving and seeking forgiveness, saying farewell) and the extent to which they had already expressed these messages. Participants rated their depressive symptoms and the quantity of unresolved offenses committed by themselves and the patient.


Of 147 surveys returned by participants, 142 were usable. In comparison with forgiveness-related communications, expressions of love, gratitude, and farewell were more consistently rated important; yet many participants rated forgiveness (giving and seeking) as extremely important. If forgiveness was rated important but had not been fully expressed, participants reported more depressive symptoms (p<0.05). Also, unresolved offenses (by participants or patients) correlated positively with depressive symptoms (p<0.05).


Although not as commonly endorsed as expressions of love and gratitude, forgiveness-related communications are seen as extremely important by many family members of hospice patients. If family members see forgiveness (granting or seeking) as important but have not completed the process, these unresolved issues are associated with depressive symptoms. This study suggests that unresolved offenses and forgiveness issues warrant assessment and clinical attention within families receiving hospice care.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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