When someone you care about or love has been told they only have a few days, weeks or months to live, it can be difficult to deal with that reality. It’s in our nature to always want to ‘fix’ things, so when we are unable to ‘fix’ the dying person, it’s difficult. Because we may feel at a loss for what to say or do, it can lead to avoiding the terminally ill person or feeling like we can’t do anything to improve the situation or make it better.
The person is still a person and alive—your friend, spouse, child, relative—the person he or she was before the terminal illness. They may not able to do things they used to, but they are still the same person. The focus may shift to be more on you physically going to visit the person and spending time wherever he or she calls home, like a private residence or nursing home. When you are with the person, relax. It might by the last time you will be able to visit with your loved one, so enjoy and cherish every moment.
Below are some suggestions that may help you stay connected with your loved one who is dying:
- 1. If the person is able to converse with you, talk with them. Talk about the things you have always talked about together: family, community events, interests of the person, such as sports, crafts, new products, etc. Look through pictures he or she may have, or bring some of your photos to show them.
- If the person is not able to converse but able to nod or shake his or her head, ask yes/no questions. Offer to read to your loved one. If the person likes a particular book or author, read that. Sometimes a long story may be too much for the person to follow or comprehend. If that is the case, read short stories that are one page or less. Many people like humor, try reading short humorous clips. The person may also appreciate Bible verses, devotions, poems or the newspaper being read aloud. Playing music and singing songs the individual enjoys is also a good option. Your voice doesn’t have to be perfect, but it will be perfect to your loved one, and you will always have those fun memories. Just talking about the day, current events, your day, etc., may also be enjoyable to the person.
- Talk about the things you did together. ‘Remember when we …’ Laugh together about the memories you’ve shared. If you don’t know the person’s past very well, ask him or her to talk about what he or she did as a child, growing up, going to school, working, marriage and family, such as siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.
- To most people, touch is very important. Ask if you may hold your loved one’s hand, comb their hair or apply lotion to their hands, arms or feet. That may be painful or he/she simply may not want to be touched. Other things you can offer to do include applying moisturizer to his or her lips, making a favorite drink or food, or finding a cozy blanket or sweater to make your loved one comfortable.
- Say goodbye. This may be difficult, but the dying person knows he or she is dying, and so do you. If the person is open to saying goodbye, say it. There may be tears and sadness, but that is OK. Say I love you and give hugs, if you are comfortable, and tell the person you are going to miss them.
It is not easy to lose someone you love, but you can still make the best of the time you have left together. Death is natural. Enjoy the time you have with the ones you care about, make fun memories. Don’t live in regret, and later say ‘I wish I had spent more time with___.’ It will be too late.
The most important thing is to just be there for the person who is dying because you might not get another chance to
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.