Menu Close

Talking to a Hospice Patient

girl talking with grandfather in hospice

In hospice care, patients and their loves ones are often aware the end is near, but it does not make it any less difficult for family members to accept. Many friends and family, even nurses and caregivers, are afraid of saying the wrong thing. They do not want to make a bad impression or seem insensitive. However, the most important thing to remember is to be yourself. The end may be near, so now is the time to show how much you care.

Follow the Patient’s Lead

Everyone is different. Some people in hospice care will want to talk about the end, while others will want to avoid it until the final days. The best course of action you can take is waiting to see what the person wants to talk about.

The patient may bring up new symptoms or other subtle cues concerning his or her condition. Some patients worry about end-of-life preparations and financial arrangements. At these points, you can ask questions such as, “Do you want to talk more about your condition?” or “Can I help find answers to those questions?” This gives the patient an opportunity to lead the conversation and talk about whatever is most comfortable.

Sometimes a patient will not want to talk at all. It’s ok to just sit quietly and hold the patient’s hand if appropriate. If you are a professional caregiver, you might consider leading the patient in a mindfulness exercise. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help reduce pain and anxiety, benefiting both the both patient and caregiver.

Listen Carefully

home caregiver comforting patientWhether you are a caregiver, volunteer or family member, if you do not know what to say, one of the best things you can do is to simply listen. At the end of life, some people want to reflect on their past. They may be perfectly comfortable telling stories, and there is nothing you need to add. Do not feel the need to interject if you do not necessarily know what to say. Additionally, if a loved one says, “I would like to be alone now,” then take that as a cue to leave. There is no need to be hurt at a time like this. Follow the patient’s lead and validate what he or she wants.

Seek Forgiveness

When someone only has a few days or weeks left, you do not want to be left with any regret. If there is any lingering ill will between you and the person, then you want to address it. Whatever mishap happened between the two of you, do not be afraid to say, “Please forgive me.” This also helps patients deal with their eventual deaths, because they know they are leaving their loved ones with comfort and peace of mind.

Show You Know the End Is Near

When someone is under the care of a hospice, there is no need to beat around the bush. You should avoid saying, “It will be all right. You will get through this.” Instead, you should strive to make these last few days or weeks as comfortable as possible. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. For example, you can ask if there is anyone he or she wants to talk to over the phone who cannot see the patient in person.

Say “Thank You” and “I Love You” Often

family talking to hospice patientEven if your relationship with the patient did not involve saying “I love you” often, now is a great time to start. You can make what little time the person has left all the more special by saying “I love you” freely. This is also a great time to thank the person for everything he or she did in your life. It can make the person less afraid of death knowing he or she made an impact in this life.

Most people are not necessarily afraid of dying. They are afraid they failed to leave a lasting impression on Earth. At this time, validate the loved one’s existence.

End Each Conversation With “Goodbye”

Unfortunately, when a loved one is in hospice care, every conversation you have may be the last one. Say “goodbye” in a heartfelt manner after each conversation and give the loved one a big hug. That way, if the person unexpectedly passes away before you have a chance to make another visit, you at least have the knowledge you left on a loving note. Avoid more casual goodbyes, such as “Bye for now” or “See you around.”

The act of visiting someone under the care of Hospice already shows how much you love this person. Among all the caregivers and nurses that come and go, the patient will be most delighted to see you. No matter what you talk about, you can feel good because you have provided comfort in life and prepared the person for moving on.

The health information on this site should not be relied on to suggest a course of treatment for a particular individual and is not intended to replace diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care practitioner.