As you age, you may become more comfortable offering condolences to grieving family members. You may become a pro at writing sympathy messages on Facebook after someone dies. You might even have several go-to sympathy gift ideas that you use when the need arises. But visiting a dying person? It’s a whole different ball game.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Gifts for Someone in Hospice Care
- Gifts that Will Cheer Up a Terminally Ill Person
- Gifts for Your Terminally Ill Mom or Dad
- Gifts for a Close Friend with Terminal Cancer
You might be extremely uncomfortable visiting a person who knows that he or she is close to death. Only those in the medical community, hospice workers, and religious leaders probably ever become used to visiting someone who is terminal — and these professionals might never get used to it.
Because we live in a gift-giving society, you may feel as if you need to have a present in hand when you visit the bedside of someone who is terminal. Here are some ideas on what to bring when you visit someone who is dying.
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Gifts for Someone in Hospice Care
People who are in hospice care may not die tomorrow. They may live days, weeks, or months. Here are some gift ideas for someone who suffers from a terminal illness.
Flowers brighten any room — especially drab hospital environments. Purchase your loved one’s favorite flowers — or better yet, bring flowers from your own garden.
Know ahead of time whether floral smells make your friend or family member feel nauseous or headache-y.
Balloons aren’t just for kids. A simple helium balloon can brighten the room and last for weeks. Try not to get more than one or two balloons, since a large bunch of balloons can get in the way.
Skincare is extremely important for a bed-ridden person. Buy luxury skincare products in your loved one’s favorite scent. Again, ask if your friend can tolerate strong smells before committing to a specific product. Ask the medical staff if you can apply the lotion to your friend’s skin.
Some terminally ill people maintain a healthy appetite until the end. If this describes the person you are visiting, bring a delicious meal or a decadent dessert. You may need to assist your loved one so he or she can eat the food that you brought. Look to the medical staff or family members for direction as to whether or not this is necessary.
A perfectly-ripened piece of fruit may be appreciated by a person who has been eating hospital food for weeks or months.
5. A religious symbol
If the person you are visiting looks forward to the afterlife, purchase a reminder of this promise in the form of a statue or some other small item that can be placed in plain sight.
Gifts that Will Cheer Up a Terminally Ill Person
You have your work cut out for you if you are trying to cheer up a terminally ill person. Here are some gifts that may bring cheer and comfort.
6. A favorite movie
If your loved one has an attention span and is able to stay awake, bring a copy of his or her favorite movie and spend the afternoon watching the film together. Don’t be disappointed if the patient drifts off to sleep in the middle of the movie or doesn’t think that it’s as hilarious as it once was. Lighthearted comedies and musicals are definitely the best choices.
7. A playlist
Even if the patient doesn’t have enough stamina to stay awake for an entire movie, he or she can enjoy music. Create a playlist that you know will remind your loved one of happy times.
8. A photo album
Share photos of your life together with your loved one. Talk about your memories as you view these pictures. Sharing memories may cause your loved one to laugh or even cry — and that’s okay. Share these emotions.
9. A card or letter
Write a heartfelt card or letter to share with the person who is dying. Tell your loved one how much he or she means to you. Share happy memories. Ask or offer forgiveness for past wrongs.
10. A visit from a pet
If the dying person is an animal lover, ask permission to bring in a cuddly kitten or a calm dog. Look for signs from the patient that he or she may be getting tired during the visit, especially if the animal is particularly active.
Gifts for Your Terminally Ill Mom or Dad
Watching your parents die is one of the most challenging experiences in life. Chances are, your parents won’t want gifts from you. They may prefer that you just be present and hold their hands instead.
11. Family photos
Remind your parents about the legacy they’ve built. Share photos of the children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren that will carry on your family’s traditions and name. You may consider having an electronic photo frame in the room that flips through dozens of photos.
12. Your family’s story
Many people are afraid of being forgotten when they are gone. Show your mom or dad that their story lives on by writing down the history of your family. Interview family members to find out about your mom’s or dad’s childhood. Find out how your parents met. Share the details of their engagement and wedding. Write down their story so it lives on.
13. Items from home
Bring your terminal parent comfort items from home. They may miss a favorite throw that has been on the back of the sofa for years. They may love a painting that has always hung over the fireplace. If your parent is not able to die at home, bring comforting objects to them.
14. Genealogy information
Your loved one may be in the process of reflecting on his or her life. This reflection may lead your loved one to think about your ancestors. Ask your dying mom or dad stories about parents and grandparents. Share photos or details of these ancestors with your loved one.
15. Your presence
A dying person has little need for more stuff. Instead, sick people need to be surrounded by those who love them. Hold your mom’s hand as she sleeps. Hug your dad. These small gestures are much more meaningful than any item you could bring to someone who is dying.
If you're still unsure how to act or what to do in person, check out our guide on what to say to when someone's sick.
Gifts for a Close Friend with Terminal Cancer
Visiting a close friend on his or her death bed may be tricky. Family members might feel as if they should have priority on bedside visits. If this is the case, you may need to make your visit brief. Here are some items you may want to consider bringing.
16. A smoothie or milkshake
Ask medical staff if it would be appropriate to bring a milkshake or smoothie to your dying friend. Most of the time, cold treats that can be enjoyed through a straw are a great choice to share with someone who is ill.
17. Snacks for your friend’s family
Perhaps your friend has no appetite, but he or she is worried about whether loved ones are getting enough food. Bring snacks and treats to leave at your friend’s bedside. Family members may not feel as if they can leave the bedside of their loved one, and they may appreciate a quick snack to keep their energy up.
18. Soft throws
Hospital linens aren’t luxurious — they’re notoriously industrial. Bring a soft blanket to comfort your dying friend.
19. A pedicure or manicure
Bring nail supplies to your friend’s bedside if your friend can tolerate a pedicure or manicure. Perform a simple manicure or pedicure on your friend.
20. An adult beverage
Again, check with your friend’s medical staff or family before bringing in a glass of wine or a stout beer for your friend to enjoy. If you are able, share one last drink with your good friend.
Giving Your Loved One Comfort at the End
You may struggle to know what to bring to a friend or family member who is dying. The reality is that it doesn’t matter. It may feel odd to show up empty-handed, but no one will care if you do.
Many people are so uncomfortable visiting someone who is dying that they don’t do it. Your presence is gift enough if you are able to spend some time with a dying person.
If you're looking for more ideas on how to comfort a loved one, read our guide on what to write in a card for someone with cancer, prayers for someone diagnosed with cancer, and the best children's books about cancer.