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, we sometimes find it difficult to deal with this. Because we may feel at a loss of what to say or do, it can lead to an avoidance of the terminally ill person and feeling like we can’t do anything to improve the situation or make it better. Below are some suggestions that may help you stay connected with your loved one who is dying.
The person is still alive and still a person—your friend, spouse, child, relative—the person he or she was before the terminal illness. The person may not able to do things as he or she used to, but he or she is 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.
Here are some tips on what to do when visiting a dying person:
- 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 you and your family 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.
- 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.
- 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 are: apply moisturizer to his or her lips, make a favorite drink or food, or find a cozy blanket or sweater to make your loved one comfortable.
It is not easy to lose someone you love, but you can still make the best of the time you have left together. We are all mortal, and we will all die. 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 be there.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving more than 30 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hrrv.org.