Are you going to visit someone who is terminally ill or in hospice? Whether you are a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance, you want to know how to behave and what to say, so that you will bring comfort and not distress. At the same time, you may be dealing with your own complicated emotions, and this can make things difficult. Here, we offer some suggestions from experts and patients on how to be during these visits and what to say to someone in hospice.
Don’t Let Fear of Saying the Wrong Thing Stifle You
Aside from impersonal clichés like “everything happens for a reason” or “you are strong”, there is not much you can say that will be wrong. If you are close to the person, let your own thoughts and feelings be your guide, as you express how much you think about the person and what he or she has meant in your life. If you are just an acquaintance, do more listening than speaking, and let the person guide you.
One good way to keep the conversation going is to build on a shared intimacy and talk about the history of your relationship. Just act the way you always did, talking and joking about the things you always talked about together. If you act differently than you would normally act, it can make the situation awkward, so just try to keep things as natural and genuine as possible. If you are struggling to find words, it is perfectly fine to tell the person that you are not sure what to say but that you are there for support and will stay as long as you’re needed.
Sometimes, you may be nervous about asking about a particular topic. It is ok to say that. You might ask if your friend is comfortable telling you what his or her thoughts are about what is happening. You might want to know what the doctors said, and it is fine to ask the person if that is an appropriate question to ask. Make sure that you ask these questions in a way that acknowledges respect for your friend’s wishes and desire for self-sufficiency.
Sometimes, you don’t even need to speak. The person may not have the energy to make small talk or may feel emotionally overwhelmed. Sitting and sharing time may be all that is needed to provide comfort. Maybe your friend would like to watch television together or listen to music, or maybe comfortable silence is perfectly fine. The fact that you are there is what is important.
Avoid False Reassurance
Do not tell a terminally ill person that everything is going to be ok. Do not say that the person will beat the illness, or tell stories of friends and family members who beat illnesses that may or may not be similar to the one in question. If you cannot think of what to say and want to say something meaningful, you could say that you wish it wasn’t happening, or that it must be hard. Do not say that you cannot imagine what the person is going through, because this can be upsetting to someone going through a hard situation. The truth is that you can imagine it, but you do not want to, and to say that you can’t imagine sounds like a cliché. If you do not want to address the illness, that’s fine too. Just express that you are available to be there and listen, and ask what you can do.
Be Specific When You Offer to Help
Sometimes, well-meaning people say, “Call me if you need help.” This, unfortunately, puts the burden of asking for help onto someone who is already negotiating a landscape of immense burdens. Instead of doing that, offer something specific. Ask if you can bring by dinner on a particular night, or offer to run a specific errand or do a specific chore. Having someone pick up medication or clean the kitchen can mean the world to a person dealing with end-of-life issues. You can also just send a funny card or email, or maybe a gift certificate for a meal or a massage.
Be Cautious with Religious Language
Do not automatically assume that someone shares your spiritual beliefs. If you know someone well, and you know that you share the same faith, it is appropriate to say that you will pray for that person. On the other hand, do not say this if you do not know what the person believes, and steer clear of talking about God, heaven, and other reassurances.
Keep Things as Normal as You Can
People who are sick do not want to just talk about their illness all day. They want to interact with others and the world the way they always have, and they often need a break from their disease. Talk about things you find interesting and amusing, and, if it’s appropriate, offer to take the person on a short outing, like out to lunch. Just make sure you are respectful of the person’s stamina, and don’t stay out longer than is reasonable.
Ask About the Present
You don’t want to offer a generic “how are you” to someone dealing with a terminal illness. It is better to ask how the person is holding up and allow him or her to guide the conversation from there. Sometimes, this can give you insight that will direct your offering of help and show you what is really needed.
Your Presence is Important
Do not pull away from the person who is ill, either physically or emotionally. Make eye contact, lean in, and be prepared to listen, even if the subject matter is uncomfortable for you. Do not feel compelled to fill every moment with words, but learn to be comfortable in the silence, just being there for your friend or loved one.
Listen, Even About End of Life Matters
The person may want to discuss funeral arrangements, health care, wills, and other subjects that may seem morbid to you. Even though this may not be what you want to talk about, it is important for the person to have an outlet. In many cases, people who are terminally ill are afraid to discuss these things with their spouses and children and may need someone to talk to who isn’t as close to the situation.
Trust Agape Hospice for Thoughtful Care
If you are looking for compassionate hospice care for your loved one, Agape Hospice NW is a wonderful option. Accredited by The Joint Commission, Agape strives to help our patients to live the remainder of their lives to the fullest, by improving the quality of life not only for our patients but also for their families. The Joint Commission is nationally recognized as the gold standard in health care, and Agape has met the organization’s enhanced requirements for patient safety and quality of care. We provide social workers, spiritual counselors, volunteers, bereavement counselors, and certified hospice aides, all under the direction of a medical director (Physician) who is responsible for ensuring that the patient’s wishes are honored, and each patient is receiving the highest level of care. We also provide registered nurses experienced in helping during this emotional time, as well as assessing the needs of the patient. For more information about how we can help, call (503) 628-9595 or contact us through our website.