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What to Say to Someone Who is in Hospice

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How to Comfort A Dying Loved One
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What to Say to Someone Who is in Hospice

September 29, 2020

End-of-life issues are difficult for everyone, especially the dying person’s caregivers, friends and family. It’s often hard to know what to say to someone in hospice. To honor your loved one, the most important thing is to make the most of the time you have left together. Because you don’t know exactly how much time you have, it’s important to act sooner rather than later. Your words of comfort for the sick and dying have tremendous impact, giving them spiritual healing and closure and providing you with loving memories.  

elderly woman comforting another elderly womanHow to Comfort Someone Who is Dying 

The end of life means something different to everyone. Family history, faith and last wishes have varying degrees of importance to each individual, based on our background and belief system. Too often, we provide comfort based on our own personal preferences. However, when a loved one is near the end of life, we should prioritize their needs instead of our own. Here are four ways to comfort someone who is dying:

  • Meet mental or emotional needs: Your loved one will often take the lead in letting you know what emotional needs they might have. When asked a question, always be honest, address fears or questions and make sure your loved one knows you’re there to help. 
  • Provide physical comfort: While words matter, caregivers can also offer comfort and love by taking care of physical needs. Sometimes, simply adjusting the bed or regulating the room temperature can alleviate distress. Other ways to keep your loved one comfortable include sharing a favorite treat, or applying a soothing, alcohol-free lotion to dried skin.
  • Satisfy spiritual needs: Those at the end of life often want to come to terms with unresolved issues. If your loved one asks for a meeting with a family member you suspect might be particularly difficult, honor the request. If needed, seek the assistance of a social worker or counselor to help facilitate a meaningful discussion. 

Often, the end of life brings up life’s big questions, like “Did my time on earth matter?” and “What happens when I die?” You’ll provide great comfort by setting up a meeting with the facility chaplain or your loved one’s pastor, priest, rabbi, imam or other close member of their faith community.

  • Take on practical tasks: On some days, a person who is dying may not be as concerned about themselves as they are about settling things for what they will leave behind, , like a beloved pet, family heirloom or even a favorite houseplant. Listen to your loved one’s concerns and help make the appropriate arrangements.  

What to Say When Visiting a Dying Person 

While it’s hard to know what to say to someone who is dying soon, it’s important to let your loved one know that their life mattered to you. “I love you” and “Thank you” are powerful ways to begin a conversation. If you have unresolved issues, instead of getting into detail, it may be easier to simply say, “I’m sorry for the times I’ve hurt you.” If you’ve been wronged by them, tell them you forgive them. Use the time you have left to foster healing and peace.

  • Be honest: While you don’t need to have long discussions about dying, don’t shy away from any topic your loved one brings up concerning their condition.

  • Share memories: Chances are, your loved ones will want to discuss memories. Use this time to share all the things you learned from them and what you cherish about the time you had together. Don’t be afraid to laugh and ask questions.

  • Offer reassurance: Make sure your loved one knows you’ve listened to any requests and will make sure all wishes are carried out. 

Tips for Talking With Someone Who is Dying  

The important thing to note when considering what to say to someone who is dying in hospice is this: Let your loved one take the lead. If you have some things you’d like to say, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to fit your thoughts naturally into the conversation at the right time.  

When words fail you, as they often do at difficult times, your presence will speak volumes. Hold your loved one’s hand or gently touch their arm to let them know you’re with them.  

How to Say Goodbye to Someone Who is Dying 

When you know your time together is almost over, you may wish to say goodbye. Start by saying, “I don’t know if I’ll see you again,” and then thank your loved one for the memories, their life lessons and the time you spent together. Listen for cues, ask follow-up questions and be present.

Elmcroft can help during your loved one’s last days. From coordination of hospice care to simply serving as a listening ear for caregivers, our staff understands and can help you navigate this difficult time.  


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