Readers of this blog often ask me “What is the best present I can bring someone who is dying?”
Readers also ask what they can or should bring, do, or say when visiting an elder, or someone on their sickbed, or a terminally ill family member, or a friend who may be bed bound at home, or a loved one living in a nursing home?
The answer to all of these questions is simple: It’s YOU! Your compassion, love, care and thoughtfulness are the best presents you can offer someone who is sick, in a hospital, living in a nursing home, at home and bed bound with illness or injury, or someone who is dying in hospice.
I had a recent visit with my young friend Vanessa, (who is also a gifted hair stylist!) and she asked me to coach her on how to make visiting her “Grannie” a positive experience for both of them. Grannie, who was Vanessa’s 94 year old great-grandmother, was dying and suffered from dementia, so this was a bit of a challenge. Grannie no longer recognized Vanessa and became agitated easily, so Vanessa was searching for a way to make her visits short, fun and positive, even if her Grannie could not recognize her. While Vanessa was cutting my hair, we started brainstorming about this situation and what Vanessa could do on her visits. When we were done with our talk I realized, yes, it’s time for another checklist on this blog.
I wrote this post by keeping in mind one simple concept. Whether someone is ill, or dying, suffering from chronic physical or mental illness, or has dementia or Alzheimer’s, what matters as human beings is that we show up for those we love in their present day and put thought into bringing joy to the moments they experience in this life. It takes just a bit of planning and courage to create meaningful visits with someone who is ill, injured or dying.
How to make a plan? Here are some suggestions to help you.
Two General Guidelines
Call ahead: Call and talk with a caregiver or nurse and see what they can advise about the best time of day to visit your loved one or friend. It helps if you can arrive knowing that the time and day you have chosen is generally a good time for the patient. People who are ill or recovering from surgery, or suffering from dementia, or dying have good and bad days, and moreover, good and bad times during the day.
For example, it’s not advisable to visit someone with dementia at the end of a day (say after 4 p.m.). Due to a syndrome known as Sundowners, people with dementia get more agitated with the loss of light at the end of the day. For many people with dementia either late in the morning or early afternoon tend to be good times to visit. In order to plan your visits, again, you should start by checking in with the caregivers or nursing staff and see what day of the week and time of day tends to be best for a visit.
Keep Visits Short: Keep it short, light and positive. I know this is hard to do if you have to travel far to get to the elder or terminally ill patient, but short visits are best unless you are part of the family or caregiving team. As much as visitors are enjoyed, they can be tiring, especially if they arrive on a bad day for the elder or patient. Keep visits to 15 -30 minutes tops if you can. Unless you are part of the family or caregiving team, it’s better to visit more frequently for shorter periods of time than for one long drawn out visit.
This advice also applies if visiting someone who just had an accident which resulted in injuries, or just went through major surgery. Your friends/family who fall into these categories need rest, so quick in and out is best unless you are specifically asked to stay longer.
I was recently home-bound for a few weeks after surgery to repair a broken leg. My neighbor, Megan (who is a saint!), would run by every few days and take my dog for a short walk, or offer to put my garbage out to the curb, or to help me with daily chores I could not do myself. Sometimes, Megan would bring along her 6 year old daughter, Margaret, who had picked a flower for me or she made a crayon drawing to brighten my day. Megan would sometimes just sit for a few minutes and catch me up on the neighborhood news or events in town. These were short visits that gave me great joy and were tremendously helpful.
Make a Plan of What to Say
If the patient can recognize you, be ready to tell them a fun story about your day, or your kids, and then lead into a memory you have of them. Ask them to share memories with you about times with their family, friends, or the old neighborhood. But don’t put them on the spot to remember a specific name. Keep it general and upbeat. Touch their hand lightly and make eye contact, let them know how much you care about them and how happy you are to see them. Ask if there is anything they might like that you could bring them, maybe a photo of your garden, or your children, or some nice lotion for their hands.
If they can’t recognize you, then you truly need a plan or ideas of what you are going to say to them or do for them. Some patients can’t respond verbally either, so it’s important to accept and understand that you will be carrying the burden of the conversation. If you are going to bring food, then you are the “snack girl/boy”, or if you are going to offer a hand massage, you are the “massage girl/guy”. Keep in mind, touching an elder who is of the opposite sex may be frightening for them, so seek guidance before you plan to do anything that involves more than a handshake. If the patient gets agitated by your presence, don’t take it personally, just leave and think of other ways to help brighten their day.
While it’s very hard for you to not be recognized by the person you love or care about, what is important in the moment is that you give them a nonthreatening reason to welcome you into their room and accept the gift you bring and enjoy the moments you offer them.
What to Bring?
This list is endless, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Flowers & Plants: Yes, it is ALWAYS appropriate to bring flowers, even to men! Just make sure they are not heavily scented. Smaller bouquets are best, or a small dried flower arrangement. Remember, visual is the key and hospital/nursing home rooms usually do not have a lot of space for flower vases. Heavy floral scents can cause headaches, or cause allergy flare-ups, so unless you know the person very well and know their taste in flowers, keep it simple, minimal scent, and colorful.
Small plants can also be a good idea for an elder/terminally ill patient. I had a client transferring to a large hospital where family would not be able to join him for a few days. I ordered a little African violet to be in his room waiting for him when he arrived, and he said it meant a great deal to see that little violet on his bedside table. It also gave him a project to do to occupy his mind: he read up on African violets, their care and watering, and had something to talk about with his visitors and staff other than his death, which was imminent.
Food: Humans love food! We love the taste, the texture, and the smell of food while it’s cooking, baking or grilling. Food evokes memories and is a simple joy to give to those who are bed or wheelchair bound, especially if they are living outside of their home. Bringing an elder or patient a small gift of food that they love and remember can make for a good conversation.
Suggestions for how to make a gift of food:
Snack Drawer: Even when a person suffers from dementia, they often remember foods that they loved. You can create/supply a snack drawer in their bedside nightstand that can hold the goodies they like (even if they are diabetic) so that they can grab a snack whenever they want.
Milkshake or Sundae: Bring something they like that might be perishable to share in the moment. I had a client who loved milkshakes, so I knew better than to arrive without one for her to enjoy while we talked. Other ideas are ice cream sundaes to be devoured during the visit, or ice cream bars that can be kept in the freezer and delivered by staff over a period of time. If the elder is lactose intolerant, check out the line of frozen kefir desserts, it is a softer frozen dessert and has helpful probiotics. Frozen kefir is also low fat, and it comes in small containers and in wonderful flavors. Food is a great way to have a lovely visit with something fun as the focus point for a light and, hopefully, lively discussion. Frozen fruit bars, and other frozen fruit desserts like sorbets are well liked and can help with keeping hydration up, so those are particularly helpful for elders in the summer months.
Hot Chocolate/Hot drinks: As a self-confessed hot chocolate lover, a high quality hot chocolate drink is a fun and different treat. Pick up your favorite hot drink and the patient’s as well and head on over for your visit. If they don’t want the drink, then give it to another patient, believe me, a good hot chocolate or good coffee drink will never go to waste. Remember, hospitals and nursing homes do not usually have the ability to make more than instant coffee or basic tea. If your friend or family member is a coffee or tea lover, bringing them a good quality hot beverage may be one of the kindest acts you can do for them.
What if they want a beer or wine? I had a frail hospice patient who was from Ireland and he desperately wanted to drink a dark beer before he died. The man was in his late 90s, there was no medical reason not to give him a beer and his doctor approved it. Before he died, his daughter brought in a cold dark beer in a go cup with a cover and straw for her father. When he took his first sip, his whole face just glowed he was so happy. But don’t sneak alcohol into a facility or home, ask the caregivers/nurses, get the advice of the doctor in case it would cause a reaction with medication – this one requires a plan and sign off from everyone involved with the patient, and most importantly the treating physician.
What to do? Give the Gift of You!
Everyone has skill sets that can lighten and brighten a day for someone who is homebound or dying.
Hand/foot massage: Anyone can give a hand or foot massage with a nice lotion; you don’t have to be formally trained to do that for another person. Make sure you ask if they would like a hand or foot massage, if they do not, then don’t push them. Some people do not like to be touched, or it could cause pain, so before you do this, ask a caregiver if they think offering a hand or foot massage would be a good idea. If the patient does not want to be touched, then offer them some nice lotion that they can rub into their hands to make them feel better and smell nice. Put some lotion on your hands and show them what to do if they are having a hard time understanding you.
Read Out Loud: from a new book you read together, or from a favorite book to create a memory. One night during my father’s last hospital stay, I read out loud to him from his favorite book of poetry. My mother and sister were in the room with us, and when I finished I turned to find one of the nurses standing in the doorway listening as well. It was a magical night for us all, giving us the gift of taking our minds off the present and reminding us all of the fun we had when my Dad would read these poems at the dinner table to us kids. I have a friend who has a beautiful voice and she would go and read to an elderly friend who had gone blind but loved books and being read to. Reading stories or poems out loud is not just for children, adults like it too – why do you think they invented audiobooks! Need suggestions on what to read? You can check out the post What to Read to a Person Who is Dying? for some suggestions.
Sing the old songs: My friend Deb recently kept vigil at her mother’s deathbed right before Christmas. Her mother loved to sing and singing together was part of their relationship. Deb invited some of her friends over one evening to the nursing home and they came with song books in hand. They sang all of the Christmas carols and hymns her mother loved. So sing the old songs from childhood, or the silly songs from the road trips in the car, even if you don’t sing well, it’s the memories that are the key to creating a wonderful moment.
Use Technology: You could make a video of the elder telling a story from their past to share with friends and family. Or you could Skype call the elder’s friends or family so they can chat and catch up. While using technology does take some planning and coordination to accomplish, it can be done. Many nursing facilities do not have Wi-Fi in patient rooms, so be prepared to create a mobile hotspot to get this done. Or maybe plan to spend time listening or watching a sports event via laptop.
Music: bring your iPad, iPhone (or iPod & portable speaker or other device) downloaded with the patient’s favorite songs so you can listen together and talk about their favorite songs and reminisce. Or load up an iPod with their favorite tunes and give that as a gift, along with clearly written instructions on how to use the device so that they or staff members can set it up to run.
Write Cards: Many elders love to send cards to friends/family. I suggest you get a box of nice cards and see if they want to send a note to someone. You can write the message for them, they can sign as best they can and you can mail the cards for them. They may have many people they want to thank and not have a way of showing that gratitude in writing.
Knitting: If the patient used to knit regularly, and that is a passion you share, then bring your latest project to show your family member or friend. You could even knit with them, or get them started on a new project. You may need to show them how to cast stitches, and they might only be able to knit for a few minutes, but if they were a knitter before the illness or injury, they might actually enjoy having something to do with their hands. Who cares if they drop stitches and never finish the piece, it’s the action of having a project to work on that matters, especially one that reminds them of who they used to be before their illness or injury.
Take them for a walk: If they can walk and it’s good for them to walk, suggest a short walk up and down the hallway, or out to a garden. If they cannot walk, but can get out of bed, bring a wheelchair into the room, and get them out and away from their room for a bit. This is critically important to help cheer someone’s day: no one likes being stuck in a bed in the same room, day in and day out. Just the action of movement, seeing other places within the facility, looking out the windows at the weather, going outside if the weather is nice enough for fresh air, looking at the birds and trees, it helps pass the day.
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about how to make a plan for what you are going to do and say when you go to visit.
Can’t Visit: Think about sending the following items:
Send Pretty Notecards that can be used to decorate a room with short notes. People who are homebound, or living in nursing homes and hospitals feel forgotten by their communities. Notes or letters sent through the Post Office is a treat and cards are usually cherished. A card on a bedside table or windowsill can also provide a point of conversation for the staff and other visitors who can comment about the card and ask who it is from.
Food can be shipped in: so this is a two-for-one return. The elder/patient gets mail and a treat that can be shared (or not!). You can send wonderful fruits during winter now. Personally, I like to send mini Honeybells from Florida – they are small, juicy, sweet, easy to peel and fragrant. There are also good quality preserved fruits, like peaches and pears, which can be sent and enjoyed a little at a time. Cookies, cheese, chocolates abound: the internet is full of ideas of treats to ship.
Flowers: you can arrange with a local florist to deliver small bouquets of fresh flowers once a month for not a lot of money.
Salon services: you can arrange for a manicure, pedicure, or hair appointment by a stylist from the local area once a month.
Companion services: you can hire someone from a local nursing agency or companion care service to visit and read to an elder, or provide respite care while family/caregivers take a needed break. If you are short on cash, check in with the hospital or nursing facility and see if there are volunteers who read or visit with patients who do not have friends or family close by.
Order a cake or pie for the family member on a birthday or anniversary or holiday if you can’t arrange a visit. If the elder/patient can’t make it home for a big occasion, you could see about hosting a little dessert event for the patient and their friends/family at the facility. Every facility can offer you some room that is private for such occasions, but it does take planning.
What NOT to Do or Say!
A deathbed or sickbed visit is not the time for anger. If you are angry with the person who is ill or dying, seek counseling with a friend, a professional, or someone who can help you with those emotions. If you do not feel you can control your emotions at the deathbed or sickbed, then do not go to visit. Write a note, if you can, that explains you wish them peace, that you hope they are not suffering, but that you cannot be present with them. For more insight on how to deal with anger toward someone who is dying, you can check out the post Anger Stops You from Visiting a Deathbed? Suggestions. Another post that might help you is When Your Abuser or Abandoner Dies: How to Cope.
A young man I know quite well visited his mother on her deathbed after 10 years of not seeing or speaking to her. She had done horrific things to him. He sought counseling before going to see her and he set his goals for the visit very clearly. He wanted to tell his mother that he was doing well, that he is happy in his life, and that he hoped she would not suffer. He grounded himself in the full knowledge that he was loved by his beautiful wife, his father and sister and brother, and that he was proud of himself for who he had become. He made a plan that nothing his mother said to him on her deathbed would or could change how he felt about his life or the love he shared every day with those closest to him. He was able to then go and see his mother and interact with her with a sense of peace and compassion that carried him through her death and beyond.
When visiting at a sickbed or deathbed, please respect the needs of the close family members as well as the patient’s. At the very end of life, a visit may not be possible or advisable because the close family members need to be there with their loved one without friends or neighbors dropping by. Call ahead, find out if a visit would be welcome and is a good idea. If it is not possible to visit, send a card or flowers, light a candle and offer up prayers.
You can always take a long walk, or sit and sip a cup of tea or coffee, and take a time out from your day to think about your friend and the gift of knowing them. Then write them a note telling them about your walk or your time thinking of them. Find the words to tell them what knowing them has meant to you, and thank them for the gift of their friendship.
We each have the power and ability to make a difference in the moments of the lives of others, whether they are loved ones or strangers. It is always possible to make a moment meaningful and positive, it just takes some thought and planning.
If you care to share some advice or experiences that others would find helpful in visiting someone who is ill, injured or dying, I ask that you leave a comment below.
Good luck with your visits!
Beautiful post, thank you!
Thanks for this well-written guideline, making a depressing experience much more bearable.I really appreciate the effort you put in to this! Everything you said was really meaningful.
The biggest challenge as A nurse was to talk to the parents first so they were able to talk to their child. Tell them you love then but you are so proud of them, tell them stories that made you proud. Most importantly, tell them you will always be together by your love. Let then know it Is ok to go to the heaven, to go to Jesus. He must need them for other with cussed her I’d do wonderful and loved. But above all let then know you will be ok. And if it is a child let then know they will be ok. When he sees the light let go. _that is when Gif us caring then home. Kids them, hold them, just be there yo love them.
Thank you. This was so wonderful.
In the last few weeks of her life I used to hum Brahm’s Lullaby to my mother.
She had her own gentle version of dementia but I knew she had spoken fluent German as a child. I didn’t know the words so I just hummed it to her as I tucked her in at night.
My grandmother had been very musical and I just had a feeling my mum would recognise it.
She obviously loved me humming and used to smile so contentedly. One night she joined in, and to my utter delight, sang all the words, in German!
Music can be a powerful trigger, but I really got lucky with that little intuition. So sweet.
The last line roughly translates as ‘In the morning, if God so wills it, I’ll see you again ‘ ❤
Thanks again Paula for writing a post which reminded me of a poignant and treasured memory.
Music can be a powerful trigger for all of us, but with dementia even more so. I really got lucky with that little intuition.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful post.
Thank you so much for the kind, comforting, calming advice.
It means a lot.
You are so welcome, Meredith. I hope the ideas of what to do/say/bring are helpful to you at this time. You might also check out What To Read To A Person Who Is Dying another post on this blog.
I have stage 4 glioblastoma brain cancer and I am currently at home but my dad is in the hospital with pneumonia and I want to know if it’s safe for me to visit him and say for him as well? I have looked all over for answers this week and I realize this is an Old Post but maybe one will show up.
Hi Patricia, I totally understand your desire to be there with your Dad at the hospital. Just a suggestion for you to consider – how about asking your treating oncologist and your Dad’s doctor managing his hospital care if it’s safe for you to visit your Dad – e.g. is he still contagious? Another option, while getting that information from your doctor and his, maybe you could Facetime or Skype with your Dad – maybe with the help of a friend at your Dad’s bedside? That way you two can see each other when you talk. Take good care – Paula
Wise words of guidance, thank you!
Thank you for your article. As we notice our mother is getting more and more tired, we agreed not to wake her if a visitor comes. But we also wonder how much we have in us to be hostess to the visitors? we know how our mom means to others and it’s important for them and my mom, but we struggle on our responsibility to our mom, our own grief and being polite hostesses.
Hi JoAnne, thank you for raising that issue! Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, or even intrusive, for the family/caregivers to have many guests wanting to see the loved one who is dying. If possible, ask your Mom how she feels about all of the visitors. Maybe a discussion within your family about letting friends know that your Mom needs her time to sleep and rest, so if people want to visit maybe you could suggest a time of day when visitors are welcome. Just letting people know what works for her, what works for all of you at this time. I think it’s perfectly within the rules of etiquette to limit visits to set times of the day in order to give the family privacy and give your Mom the space she needs to be with you all, to be attended to by caregivers, and to rest. But how wonderful that so many people want to be with your Mom, it’s a true tribute to how many lives she touched in her lifetime. Best wishes to you all –
This post is so full of helpful, positive info, I can’t thank you enough! It touched on every circumstance I thought of and some I hadn’t. You have conveyed this all in an upbeat and matter-of-fact way that is very comfortable to read, also.
Thank you Pat, please share this with others – I’d love to think that this little post makes visits more comforting and comfortable for both the patient and the visitor! Thank you for leaving a comment here!
Thank you for your practical & compassionate voice of guidance & care. One suggestion I offer is this: for people who are bed or homebound, or loved to travel, visiting w/ a laptop or iPad to access the internet to view virtual travel sites, national geographic, or nature programs can be delightful to people. One doesn’t have to view a whole program to receive the immediate visual & auditory sensations that may connect them to pleasurable memories, emotions, & stories to share.
Hi Patty, what a great idea! I’ll add it to the post as a suggestion – thank you for that idea!
Thank you very much for this post. It has helped so much.
Hello Paula.. I have an unusual question..and I hope you can give me some advice. My husband’s cousin is dying and it could be any day. My sister who is 70 years old asked the dying man’s wife if she would want flowers or a donation in his name . I didn’t think this very proper of my sister as the poor man had not passed away yet.
Do you agree with me? I’m very embarrassed by her asking this .
Hi Linda, I don’t know your family dynamic so I’m not sure what to say beyond this: death is a hard and anxious time for everyone. I think it best to leave this matter to your cousin’s wife and your sister to work out between the two of them IF this question created any discomfort for your cousin or his wife. If this did cause any kind of ruffle in their relationship, you could offer to be the facilitator to smooth out the edges that may have been created. It’s not about being right or wrong here – someone you all love is dying and you are all in pain. Maybe your sister is very uncomfortable with the topic of death, with the loss of her loved ones, so she defaults to practical matters she can “do” – we all like to be “doing” things not sitting still. Given what your cousin and his wife are facing, this question from your sister may or may not have even registered as something that upset them. Things can seem bigger than they are when someone is dying. Sorry I can’t answer your question other than to say that I suggest you meet everyone with love and compassion, try not to judge others who are scared or in pain. You might want to read the post on this blog: Death: Will it bring out the best or worst in you? – and share it with others. It’s about making choices around your own behavior when facing the death of someone you love. I’ve actually had families email this post to each other – and put the link to it in funeral service programs. I hope you can reach out to your sister and your cousin’s wife and smooth any hurts – because that’s what loving siblings do for each other. In the end, there will be a funeral and a family needs to move forward from there as whole as possible. So sorry for your cousin’s suffering and the loss you are all facing.
I would like a photographic slide show of family and travels if possible
What a wonderful site! My friend has been on dialysis for many years and has decided to stop. She has invited all her friends to stop by during specific hours this week to have a chance to say good bye. She is a beautiful woman whom I treasure and I am so grateful to have a chance to see her BEFORE she dies. Although I selfishly wish she were not dying, I accept her decision. She and I are both artists so I plan to do the following: I am going to attach lots of butterflies from Michael’s to a formal gown I have (lavender) and in my hair. I am going to glue butterflies all over a pair of glittery gold women’s heels I found in a thrift store. I am going to go visit her knowing the absurdity and beauty of the get-up will put a smile on her face, then I am going to give her the shoes as a symbol of her new ability to soar when she leaves the bonds of this earthly existence. I have no idea if butterflies have any special meaning for her, but I’ve always loved Dolly Parton’s song “Love is Like a Butterfly” and this friend once painted a pair of rocks with glittered leaves and a frog for my garden so I know she loves nature. It also helps just to know others have faced loss and gotten through it. Thank you!
Kellie, I am so sorry for your friend having to make this decision, but it is understandable after such a long time on dialysis. So glad though that she wants to have friends over to say goodbye. I think your butterfly gown and shoes are FAB – laughter, caring, vibrant spirit that is shared between friends is always a beautiful idea. The shoes especially caught my attention! Thank you for leaving this comment. I hope you will let others know of this site. You are a great friend to think and then complete this project to bring smiles and brightness to your friend in her last days.
This was very helpful! Thank you!
Thank you for all your suggestions. My sister- in- law is dying of cancer right now. I want to help and I feel helpless. You gave me a lot of good ideas. Thanks to the posts others added as well.
Trying to get the courage to visit a friend with stage 4 pancreatic cancer tomorrow. We just found out yesterday and I just can’t stop crying. I need to pull it together and be strong for him. I am worried I will just fall apart when I get there. Thank you for some good advice because I am absoulty heartbroken that my visit is basically saying good bye to him. Not something anyone can prepare for.
Okay….my 70 yr old brother has bladder cancer diagnosis and his time on Earth is likely down to a month. He is in assisted living for 3 years and now has occasional hospice visits with very strong medicine available for pain. I and my siblings are all in your 60’s. My niece is 38 yrs old. If she arrives when I am visiting, she immediately closes blinds, turns down TV and, basically, puts the room in darkness, saying her Dad is dying…needs to be heavily sedated at all times (rendering him incapable of interaction at all) and she just wants him to sleep ‘in peace’. When she isn’t there and one of us is (or even two at same time), we let him know it’s daytime, speak to him and patiently wait for his response, and will call the nurse if he asks or if we think he may be uncomfortable — but, we don’t insist on room darkening, quiet and ‘just let him be cause he has bladder cancer and his days are numbered.’ We want our niece to get out of the room with her ‘darkness’ and ‘death’ is near attitude & her ‘just let him sleep’. We know he has moments, sometimes even an hour or so of being awake with awareness, though one..or two of us…don’t mind waiting in a light and pleasant day-time atmosphere for him to awaken to one degree or more…. and then we surely do most of the talking and will wait patiently as he slowly talks or even mumbles his ‘two-cents’ worth. His daughter comes in and it’s back to SHUT THE BLINDS, SHUT UP AND JUST STARE AT OUR BROTHER … as the darkness or the medication SHE DEMANDS FOR HIM (under guise to nurse that she thinks he’s in pain) again puts him in ‘lala land’. My brother doesn’t speak up for himself that he is enjoying our company, as he doesn’t want to be ‘at odds’ with his daughter at all. When my brother dies…in a month, weeks, days, day from then … we siblings will remember how our niece took those awareness minutes or more away from us WITH HER BLEAK DEMANDS and she will be ‘on her own’ …. and that’s way more than the handful of times we’d see her each year anyway. We hate that she won’t listen to us and how we know our brother likes us there … with her ‘possessiveness’ I’ll call it … yet, she just wants to rub his hand at his bedside, as she keeps him ‘sedated’.
Hi Judith, I’m so sorry that your brother is dying.These are not easy days for any of you I’m sure. If you think it might help, perhaps the whole family could arrange to meet with a counselor from hospice for “guidance” on what your brother “needs” right now for support. Maybe if your niece hears from an independent expert on death/dying process that it’s “okay” for the lights to be on, for people to talk and be with him, for him to be aware enough to engage in some conversation, it might help? I don’t know, just putting that out there. Hospice does have trained counselors who can meet with families around issues like this to help resolve conflict. In the end, however, the only thing you control is your own conduct/works/actions. If you feel that your brother would enjoy light, fresh air (open a window), conversation, being read to, hands and feet massaged, then go for it. Do what feels right for you as his sister. Clearly, be aware of his pain level and whether you feel that aspect of his dying process is managed. But I get the desire to allow your brother’s body and soul to let you know what makes him feel loved, maybe that’s being aware of surroundings and loved ones talking to him. Please see also the post “Sitting Vigil” on this site, it may be helpful as well. Again, a family meeting/intervention with a trained counselor may help you all and reduce the conflict with your niece – but that’s for you all to decide whether you want to make that effort. Take care of yourself in this process, get rest, meditate/pray, eat healthy foods, get fresh air. Being physically and mentally run down/tired makes us less compassionate, less tolerant of others.
Excellent article! Many times people lock up, and do nothing because they don’t know what to say or how to act. That turns into a loss for everyone. Thank you for giving the tools that can make a difference.
Not sure if you are still available. My grandmother had a stroke and time is running out. She lives about 2 hour flight from me. Background, last year my father decide to divorse my mother after 38 years just as she arfived to visit me for 2 weeks. My father has turned his family against me for a reason unknown to me. My grandmother told me that its for his sake its better if we dont talk. It broke my heart, but what choices did I have. So now as time is running out and the knowing that we have always been very close, I want to visit her, the time is still there, the oppertunity many missed, but I am refused by my father. I know she will know my heart is pure, she cant communicate, so do I follow my heart and instict to spend time or let my father forever steal that from me…
Hi Elizabeth, Yes, I’m still here and available, maybe these words will help. Unfortunately, you have to be the “adult” in your relationship with your dad and his family. Which means – follow your heart and be prepared to be firm, compassionate and direct with your father’s family. If your grandmother is in a hospital or nursing home, that’s a public facility. Just get there and go see her. If you encounter family remember only a medical agent acting for your grandmother can block a visit. Just explain you want to go and see her, kiss her cheek and let her now how much you love her before she dies. Don’t stay for hours and hours, just have a good last visit. Remember, her children clearly have issues to “work” out – my guess is that your Dad is not the only one with issues around his mother’s death to work through and they all could be acting “out” right now. Remember, these are her children and she raised them/formed them and they need to experience her death with her. Are there any other grandchildren/cousins to you who might go with you? The alternative is to see if you can get a call through to her, even if she can’t respond, she can hear you tell her you love her and tell her what values she taught you, or the example she set for you. I hope you can find a way to connect with her (facetime, Skype, call, in person visit). Best wishes to you – Paula
Hi Paula, thank you very much. She is at home with my aunt, nevertheless I have decided to follow the urge inside my heart and my ticket is booked. Your advise is truly appreciated, as all the advise in the article! I’m going with not a sad heart to say goodbye, I’m going with positive energy and grateful heart, I will cry, but not when I’m with her.
Warm regards and blessings
I think that’s great plan, going with a grateful heart. It’s okay to cry and let her wipe your tears one more time, just smile while you cry – let her know you are always going to hold her in your heart. Be safe and good to yourself while on this journey. take good care –
When visiting a homebound person assigned to a wheelchair here are a few suggestions…. If they are in their room and there is no other place to sit except on the bed when leaving please straighten out the comforter..
If doing some small tasks in the kitchen please return everything to its original position. Do not ask what can I do for you unless you are willing to do what they ask…instead ask can I do the ironing for you or whatever comes to mind that you are willing to do. These suggestions of course depends on the situation of the individual you are visiting……(do not use full name given below…use my middle name, Elizabeth.)
Thank you, Elizabeth, that is great insight and advice!
I have a good friend who has been battling cancer and has suddenly taken a turn for the worse and is now under hospice care. I found out 2 days ago that she will
probably not live through the week. I’m going to see her tomorrow for what will probably be our good bye, and I’m literally terrified. I’m an emotional person and I’m afraid I’ll fall apart in front of her. How do I hold it together? But I don’t want to be fake cheerful either. I’m at a loss.
Hi Betsy, I’m so sorry that I missed your question, I’ve been offline for a few days.
I hope that you were able to hold yourself together for your visit. It’s very hard to do and the best way I know is to remember stories of the fun you two had together. If things get very emotional, that’s okay too. But one way to bring yourself and your friend out of the pain is to find something to laugh about together – a shared memory of an experience you had together, the times you two laughed so hard you thought you might fall down. Share the laughter, it eases the pain and helps you. Then after the visit, get in a tub of hot water with your favorite refreshing drink and have yourself a good cry. And/or meditate, light candles at church or in your house, journal and let yourself feel all of these wonderful painful human emotions. Be grateful for the friendship you two had, every day, and spread the love you feel for her around to others who may need it once she has died – her family, other friends. Again, I’m so sorry I was offline and didn’t get these thoughts to you in time. Maybe some of this may still help you with your grief. Take good care –
Thank you Paula. I was able to see my friend but unfortunately she was no longer responsive to visitors. She died a few hours after my visit. I held her hand and spoke to her as if she could hear me. It was important to me to tell her I loved her and how much she means to me, and I feel in my heart that she knew I was there. And yes, I did have a good cry with her family, but it was ok. I was just worried in advance that I might make things worse for my friend and her family if I broke down. Again, thank you for your words and for your blog. It helps.
I am preparing to say goodbye to my mother who is dying from cancer.
I learned today that there are many forms of ‘goodbye’. My mother said goodbye to enjoying life a few weeks ago; she no longer enjoys it, but she is physically still alive.
And we say goodbye in our minds first when someone we love is dying.
I have never had a close family member die before – the emotional pain is much worse than I imagined.
Posts like this are invaluable. Thank you.
Great article. Thank you. Having just been through the (slow) death of my mother, I would add this: Be sensitive to the person and the situation (including the carers) but also be confident enough that you are coming NOT asking anyone to help carry your fears, sadness, insecurities about what you should be doing. Everyone is already carrying a huge load and they do not need you needing them to also carry you. There will be ways that you support each other by virtue of being together, but that is different from coming in all a flutter and wanting someone to make you feel better or more secure.
This is such a wonderful article. I wonder if there are any suggestions for visiting a loved one who is hallucinating? She no longer sees her physical visitors, only the dead. But I want her to know I am here for her. Any suggestions?
Hello Elana, I have encountered people who thought they were working a job and couldn’t leave their job, so I told them their replacement worker was checking in and they were “off duty,” but I’ve never had anyone only seeing the dead. I think you could reassure her that you are there as a guide to make sure she’s safe and ask her to tell you who she’s seeing, how they are doing? It’s not important that she knows who you are in this space but that she is safe and looked after by loving souls. Does that help? I’m sure she knows on some level that you are there and you care about her, but she may not be able to express that.
In finding your contact info on-line, Paula, I was delighted to find your blog as well. What a generous gift to all who are suffering. Such compassion, and such an inspiration to help us all do better at what can be daunting and difficult.
I’m sure I’ll reference it frequently as the valuable resource it truly is!
Hi Rosemary, Thanks so much for your comment! I see these issues every day in my practice and the blog is a great way for me to share what seems to be information people need. And I’m grateful for any referrals to new readers. There’s no money for marketing, so this has been an adventure in word of mouth marketing and Google analytics.