Caring for Your Loved One

Things You Can Do When Your Loved One Is Dying

  • If your loved one feels well enough, and for as long as time allows, you can support and communicate with them in many different ways.
  • Encourage him to talk about his life.  Family photos often bring back good times and stimulate memory.
  • Touch is one of the most comforting means of communications.  It can sometimes show love and caring more easily than words – holding hands, giving a foot rub, smoothing hair, a loving embrace.
  • Loving gestures are very comforting – helping with meals, offering a drink, a cloth on the forehead.
  • Offer truth.  When he is doing poorly, don’t deny it.  Everyone, sick or healthy, should be treated with honesty.  Try to find a way to say the things that are in your heart.
  • Spend time together.  Shared companionship fills lonely or frightening hours – listening to music, reading the newspaper, playing cards, watching television.  Don’t be afraid to talk about ordinary life, this may give a break to your loved one from thinking about illness.
  • Be respectful.  Respect his privacy, confidentiality and his opinion.
  • Offer to write a letter for your loved one (perhaps to a son, daughter, grandchild or friend).
  • Accept, acknowledge and be sensitive to the changing feelings expressed by your loved one.  The patient may need to express their emotions and some encouragement may be helpful.
  • Offer choices whenever possible to give your loved one a sense of control.
  • Ask open-ended questions – “can you tell me what’s happening for you right now?”  “What would you like to do today?”
  • Really listen – sometimes people talk about their dying in symbolic ways (e.g. Going on a trip, meeting with family who have already died).  Rather than treating this a confusion, listen closely and encourage him to discuss his feelings.
  • Smile and laugh.  Laughter is wonderful medicine – continue to bring humour to the situation whenever possible.
  • Be comfortable with silence.  Love, caring and understanding often need no words.  Silence can be as comforting as talking.
  • Allow your loved one to doze off and rest – just sit with him as he sleeps.  Take time to cherish these gentle quiet moments.
  • As the illness progresses, sometimes it may appear that your loved one does not know you are there.  He may be too ill and may not have the energy to reach out, but you can still communicate with him.
  • Simply “be there”… be present.  Your loved one is often aware of your presence even though he appears not to be.
  • Touching is still important.  It may be comforting to lay your hand on him.
  • Hearing is the last sense to go.  Don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one.
This information is adapted from publications by Victoria Hospice and Nanaimo Community Hospice Society.