Most of us know what it means to hear the words hospice care. Generally, it's understood that when a person needs hospice care, they have a life expectancy of six months or less. This type of care aims at providing comfort to the patient rather than seeking a cure. It involves all aspects of patient care from pain relief, emotional support, to spiritual well-being.
Hospice care also provides respite to those caring for the patient. These short breaks from patient care allow the caregiver rest to support their emotional and physical well-being. Transitioning to hospice care can be hard for your loved one to accept. You might also find it hard to figure out what to say to someone in hospice.
The following suggestions might be of some help to you in finding the right words to say.
1. Acknowledge their condition
When you acknowledge that someone is dying, it honors your relationship with them. Just because someone is dying, it doesn't mean that they've all of a sudden become this different person. Most people who are dying don't want to be treated as if they're already dead.
Making an effort to maintain as close a relationship to the one you had before without tip-toeing around the subject of death is important. It's ok to talk about it and ask questions concerning their diagnosis and prognosis.
But it's not ok to dwell on it and make it the only topic of conversation. Your loved one would just as much want to talk about the weather and traffic than about them dying. As difficult as this may be for you emotionally, try to bring in a ray of hope with you to your visits.
2. Have a conversation
Having a genuine conversation with your loved one needn't be such a tough thing to do. Keep reminding yourself that you're there to visit a loved one who is very much alive. You can talk about anything under the sun that strikes you.
If you aren't sure how to start the conversation, try using these openers:
- “Did you hear the latest on this murder hornet going around?”
- “Have you had the pleasure of watching an episode of Tiger King on Netflix?”
- “I left in such a hurry, I don’t know whether I let the dog in, or if he held the door for me on the way out!”
The point here is to keep things lighthearted. Conversations don’t always have to be so structured and serious. You both know your loved one has reached the end of their life. There’s no need to dwell on that fact.
Instead, have a conversation. Pull out your cell phone and compare articles about Tiger King. Laugh a little. Cry if you must.
3. Share memories
Treat every visit and every moment with your loved one like the gift that it is. When you spend time together, find ways to keep yourselves entertained so as to avoid awkward silences. Share some fun by going down memory lane.
You can talk about your favorite memories with them. Ask them to take you back to their childhood and share with you things you never knew about them. Think as yourself as this great historian digging up all the details of this life for future preservation.
4. Ask questions
Here you can get a little serious in your conversations. Start by asking the tough need-to-know questions. Ask for the details of their end-of-life planning. What do you need to know? Who should you contact? Is everything in order? When the conversation gets rolling, continue with these suggested questions:
- How do you feel about the care and treatment that you’re receiving?
- How did you envision your end of life to go?
- Do you want to die at home or in an institutional setting?
- What can I do to make you more comfortable?
- Are there any loose ends needing to be addressed?
5. Explore faith
Religion comforts the dying and gives hope of a life after death. For some, they anticipate meeting up with loved ones who’ve died before them — a father reuniting with his son, an old man joining his wife, a mother seeing her beloved children. But others treat discussions about faith and religion as taboo subjects.
They don't want to be asked about their personal beliefs. And they don't want to talk about it. But as they're nearing the end of life, the subjects of religion, spirituality, and faith take on a deeper meaning.
Consider lightly touching on these subjects to see what they think. You may find that as a person faces death, they become more open to sharing their beliefs and having these discussions.
6. Give updates
Your loved one most likely wants to be a part of your life as you do theirs. Come prepared for your visits with lively updates on how everyone's doing.
Gossip if you must but keep it positive and fun. Do you know the latest dating escapades of your old Aunt Edna? Did Uncle George finally marry his best friend's ex-wife? Share in all of the juicy details. What's better than watching stale television? Real-life dramas, of course!
7. Include them in your life
When you include someone in your life, you allow them access into areas that aren't for everyone to see. Maybe it's time that you shared with your loved one parts of you that you've kept hidden in the past.
This doesn't always refer to traumas that you've experienced in life. It can also include things like personal accomplishments, acts of kindness, and charity. Maybe no one ever knew that you've traveled by yourself to several countries, or that you were once the lead singer in a garage band. Whatever it is, share parts of your life that are interesting and little-known facts about you.
8. Don’t let fear get in the way
Sometimes we are so consumed with the fear of losing someone we love that we fail to act when given the opportunity. You may find yourself frozen in fear of death and the dying process that you keep putting off visiting your loved one. Consider how they might feel, waiting each day wondering if that’s the day they’ll get to see you. And then you don’t show up yet again.
On the other hand, maybe it’s not fear of death that’s keeping you away. But the fear of not knowing how to reconcile a strained relationship. You may be feeling the contention behind every word spoken and every thought processed.
If this is happening to you, consider the following:
- Not everyone gets the opportunity to say a final goodbye
- This could be your opportunity to make amends
- You have an opportunity to tell your loved one how they impacted your life and what they mean to you
- You can show your loved one kindness so they can die in peace
- You can both gain closure
9. Talk through touch
When you've run out of things to say, don't panic. Your loved one may be tired or too sick to continue the conversation. Maybe they just don't want to do anything other than to lie there with their eyes closed. You can still communicate through the power of touch. Try holding your loved one's hand, or placing your hand on their arm as you continue to talk to them.
The sound of your voice and the feel of your touch can be very soothing to someone who's dying. Try not to take it personally if you spend the better part of your visit providing comfort care to your loved one.
10. Bring a gift
You may be thinking, "Why should I bring a gift to someone who’s dying?" Well, why not? Everyone likes to receive little pick me ups. It can be something as simple as a box of fine chocolates, music for someone who is experiencing death anxiety, or a card for someone with terminal cancer.
Whatever you choose to gift, consider the recipient's health restrictions. Take care not to bring any foods or drink that interfere with their medications or treatment.
11. Saying goodbye
You can say goodbye to someone without having to say goodbye. It's emotionally tough knowing what to say to someone who is dying. It can also be awkward acknowledging that a person is dying. When emotions get the best of you, look at this time together as a precious gift. See it as an opportunity to show your love and support. With every visit, bring with you a renewed sense of calm. Come prepared to talk about whatever you both feel like discussing.
Here are some suggestions on things to say:
- “I want you to know how much I love you. It’ll be tough here without you.”
- “You’ve made a great impact on my life. I’m going to miss you.”
- “Did I ever repay you that loan? I’ll see you in the next lifetime. I’ll square up with you then.”
- “Don’t worry. I won’t soak your sheets with tears this time. How about some funny jokes?”
- “You know I love you. I hope you don’t get tired of me coming around to shoot the breeze.”
Saying the Right Words
We all have to learn how to say goodbye to someone we love. People you love eventually die, and you’ll experience the pain of that loss when the time comes. Finding the right words to say can bring peace and comfort to you both during this emotionally difficult time.