Coping with Another Person’s Suffering

There is nothing more difficult for a caregiver than to sit at the bedside of a person who is dying and watch them suffer. We have an innate sense to help, and in these situations, most of us just want to do something—anything—to make them feel better.

At the end of life, a person may experience pain, shortness of breath, secretions, restlessness/agitation or other symptoms. While all of this is normal, Hospice focuses on providing comfort—for both the patient and caregivers.

Here are things you can do to cope with another person’s pain and symptoms:

  • Help your loved one report symptoms and ask questions. Many patients downplay the true level of pain they experience when talking to their doctors. Keep a chart of pain and symptoms, and report as much information as you can to the Hospice nurse. The more information you provide, the easier it is to manage pain and symptoms.
  • Learn about medications. Know your options. Using medications is the most common way to relieve pain and symptoms. Know your options.
  • Focus on what you can do. You may not be able to take away their pain, but you can be present for your loved one. You can hold his or her hand; you can sing; you can share stories.
  • Watch for signs of distress and act. Watch for non-verbal cues of pain, such as grimacing, furrowed brow and clenched/grinding teeth, and report these cues to the Hospice nurse. Try repositioning your loved one; for example, elevate the head of the bed. If your loved one experiences an elevated temperature, offer a cool cloth to the underarms and forehead or a fan, or use a light sheet instead of a heavy blanket. Offer medications prescribed by the Hospice nurse to calm and relax the patient.
  • Take time for you. Give your mind a break. When your loved one is in pain, you’re in pain, too. Take periodic, short breaks. Go for a walk, read a book, take a nap.
  • Provide a distraction. Play soft music. Offer a foot massage. Practice deep breathing. Watch television. Play cards or games. Read aloud.
  • Keep the patient as comfortable as possible. Keep your loved one clean and dry, including their gown, sheets and hair. Ask the Hospice nurse about mouth swabs, mouth moisturizer and lubricant for lips.

With Hospice, trained professionals are always a phone call away to provide physical, emotional and spiritual care for the patient, as well as bereavement support for the family.

Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the first hospice, said it best: “You matter to the last moment of your life.” This quote is the foundation of what we do and shapes the care we provide to patients and their caregivers on the end-of-life journey.


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