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
- Gift Basket Ideas for a Terminally Ill Loved One
- Gift Ideas for a Terminally Ill Child or Teenager
- Birthday Gift Ideas for a Terminally Ill Loved One
- Holiday Gift Ideas for a Terminally Ill Loved One
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. You could also bring a laptop and rent or buy the movie on Amazon.
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. You can try a music streaming serivce for free and 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.
We like this Fabric Frame Cover Photo Album from Amazon.
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.
We like these Hallmark Blank Cards from Amazon.
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.
We like the Dhwazz Digital Photo Frame from Amazon.
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.
We like the Bertte Throw Blanket from Amazon.
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.
Gift Basket Ideas for a Terminally Ill Loved One
“Comfort” is a pivotal concept to remember when purchasing gifts for those who are terminally ill. Here are some gift basket ideas for someone facing a difficult prognosis.
21. Nostalgic items
Does your friend or family member talk a lot about their childhood during your visits? For example, they may describe the joy of drinking Orange Crush from a bottle or their favorite saltwater taffy from a shop on the pier. If possible, try to find these nostalgic items to surprise your friend.
We know that DVD collections seem rather silly in a world full of streaming services. However, there may be a specific movie or TV show collection that would give your friend or family member great joy to rewatch. So, create a gift basket with DVDs, snacks, and a pair of fuzzy socks, and spend time enjoying the series with your friend.
23. Items for visitors
This may be counterintuitive, but you might help your friend by purchasing items that would make their visitors more comfortable. For example, even if your friend doesn’t have much appetite, you can purchase snacks to be enjoyed by those visiting. You may also include a book of conversation starters or a journal for them to record memories of your friend for all visitors to read and enjoy.
24. Comfort items
If your main goal is to keep your loved one as comfortable as possible, think of what items are needed to achieve this. Maybe your friend could benefit from lotion, lip balm, or a scalp massager. Perhaps your friend would appreciate a hot water bottle or heating pad. Maybe they are having difficulty regulating their temperature and need warm wool socks, or perhaps they need a fan.
You might also consider purchasing a body pillow or one for their head. Perhaps they need a humidifier in the room or blackout curtains. Maybe they need a gel cushion to sit on or an egg carton mattress for their bed, or tissues with lotion.
Depending on the situation, you may not be able to communicate with your loved one. If that’s the case, you might need to rely on non-verbal cues to help you understand what things bring comfort and what things are irritating.
And, of course, talk with the person’s caregivers before purchasing a gift. They may be working with a hospice organization and have access to many of these comfort items.
Gift Ideas for a Terminally Ill Child or Teenager
We are sorry if you find yourself in a situation where you need to buy a gift for a terminally ill child or teenager. The death of a loved one is brutal to face – no matter the age. However, the death of a young person may feel extremely difficult to bear.
What do you give to someone who may not long for the world? As we mentioned previously, comfort items may be at the top of your list. Think about what the child or teenager might need to make them more physically comfortable. We already mentioned throws, socks, lotions, pillows, heating pads, and candles.
Here are some other gifts to consider. Of course, not all of these might be appropriate. It depends on the age of the child or teenager, their comfort level with technology, and their abilities.
25. Spotify subscription
If the teen is into music, they may already have a music streaming service. However, you might upgrade their subscription so that they can enjoy their content without ads.
26. Bluetooth speaker
If music is important to the teen or the child, purchase a Bluetooth speaker (or headphones) so they can enjoy their favorite songs the way they were meant to be heard.
27. Streaming service
Again, consider upgrading the child or teen’s current services so that they can enjoy their content without ads.
28. Books about Heaven or end-of-life topics
We know this is difficult for you, but the child or teen may want to talk about death. They may have questions about the afterlife or be afraid about what comes next. If you aren’t prepared to talk about this difficult subject, consider purchasing books about Heaven or the end of life. You may also consider, of course, scheduling visits with ministers or counselors.
29. Stuffed animals
Give the child or teen a plush toy or stuffed animal to hold when needed. Then, use this opportunity to purchase something that the child would love – whether a dinosaur or a stuffed Spider-Man.
Kids and teens may not appreciate floral arrangements as much as they would balloons. Purchase balloons or other items to give the patient something colorful and happy to look at as they convalesce.
31. Pajamas or robe
Make sure the child is as comfortable as possible by purchasing soft, comfortable clothes to wear in bed.
Birthday Gift Ideas for a Terminally Ill Loved One
It’s emotionally challenging to choose a gift for a dying person. On the one hand, you may not want to purchase a gift that implies that death is imminent. But, on the other hand, some gifts may not be appropriate for someone who is physically hurting and going through treatment.
As you consider the gift, think about what would give the recipient joy. Maybe it’s not practical, and it may cost more than you would typically spend. However, remember that this may be your last opportunity to celebrate a family member or friend’s special day.
Buy the engagement ring for your wife that you always promised. Get your daughter diamond earrings. Even a person who doesn’t feel well may be able to wear and admire a piece of jewelry they had always wanted.
33. An experience
Is your friend or family member well enough to complete a bucket list experience? If so, check a to-do item off their list. Buy a hot air balloon ride. Get them tickets to see a favorite performer. Take them sailing.
34. A bucket-list trip
If your friend is well enough to travel, consider taking them somewhere special for their birthday. For example, go to the Grand Canyon or take them to the beach. Watch the changing of the guard in London, or go on a cruise to a Caribbean island. Depending on your friend’s condition, you might need to consult with physicians on how to handle medical emergencies while on your trip.
35. A journal or memory book
Encourage your friend or loved one to write in a journal or memory book. This will enable them to leave behind their thoughts and record their memories. You might look specifically for books with writing prompts, such as “Grandma Remembers” books or “My Life” journals.
36. End-of-life plan
Granted, an end-of-life plan might not be a great “birthday gift.” However, some people are very opinionated on their end-of-life choices. Give them peace that their wishes will be fulfilled by purchasing an end-of-life plan before they die.
For example, perhaps your loved one wants to have their body immediately cremated upon death and have their ashes scattered at sea. If that’s the case, contact a direct cremation provider in your area and find a company that specializes in sea burials.
Some people take solace in selecting their own funeral hymns or readings. If this describes your loved one, create a free end-of-life plan through Cake.
Holiday Gift Ideas for a Terminally Ill Loved One
We are sorry if you are facing the last holiday with your terminally ill loved one. However, we hope that you are able to create memories that will give you comfort after your friend or family member passes. While it’s terrible that you may never celebrate a Christmas or Easter with your loved one again, remember that not everyone is given this opportunity to say goodbye.
Here are some winter holiday gift ideas for someone who is terminally ill.
If you are able, give your loved one the gift of a normal, wonderful Christmas. Put up the same decorations that you always do, play the same silly games, and attend the same Christmas Eve service. Of course, this Christmas won’t feel “normal” at all. However, you will have the memories of this “last time” to cherish forever.
38. Home movies
Update your home movies to the newest technology and spend time walking down memory lane with your loved one. This may be painful and bittersweet.
Create a scrapbook of all of your holiday photos from the past.
If your loved one can physically enjoy a party, gather their family and friends for a big holiday celebration. You might want to give those attending the opportunity to share a tribute about your friend or family member.
41. Sleigh ride
Bundle up in your coats and make a thermos full of hot chocolate. Then, enjoy the winter wonderland by going on a horse-drawn sleigh ride with your loved one.
42. Holiday concert
Holiday music often stirs emotions even during regular occasions. However, a holiday concert with a dying loved one may be an incredibly poignant event.
Hire someone talented to create a quilt from material that is meaningful to your loved one. For example, use a bit of fabric from their mom’s favorite dress and their dad’s work shirt. Also, use a scrap of cloth from their child’s baby blanket or Halloween costume.
A quilt not only can stir wonderful memories, but it is a practical gift for someone who may spend an increasing amount of time in bed.
44. Something beautiful
Give your loved one something beautiful to admire. Maybe that would be a beautiful piece of jewelry. Perhaps your loved one would like to look at photographs taken of beautiful places in the world. You could buy or create a beautiful piece of embroidery on silk or a collectible that your loved one enjoys.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, consider what your loved one would want to look at as they spend an extended amount of time in bed.
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.