How To Talk to Someone in Hospice

Talking with a loved one in hospice care can be challenging and emotionally draining. Keeping the communication going during this end-of-life time is important for you and your loved one. Here are some thoughts on how to communicate in a meaningful way for both of you.

What should we talk about?

Hospice patients may want to talk about happier times or share a treasured memory. They might want to relay a bit of family history or even pass on some advice. If the conversation seems stilted, ask about something your loved one knows – like arranging flowers or baseball players. Ask about a favorite recipe and its ingredients. Review family photos and discuss who is in the picture, when, and where it was taken.

Should we talk about death?

Be a follower … not a leader when it comes to knowing how to talk to a loved one in hospice. Dr. Kenneth Doka, Ph.D. and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America says, “Let your loved one take the lead when it’s time to talk about dying.  Sometimes they want to talk about it and sometimes not. The dying one should control the agenda. Don’t force conversations on them.”

Listen for clues that your loved one wants to begin a conversation about his or her death. Perhaps a comment about new symptoms is mentioned. Or a remark about not being around for an upcoming event. Dad may say, “I am tired of being sick.” Mom may mention that she wants to “go home.”  At that point, you can say, “Do you want to say more about that?” or “Tell me what you mean.” Listen and ask questions to continue the conversation as far as your loved one wants to take it.

Respect your loved one’s wishes regarding who she might want to talk to by phone, in-person or even by Internet connection. Ask if there is a spiritual leader in his faith community that he might want to speak with.

What Matters Most

According to Dr. Ira Byock, Palliative Care Physician and author of “Four Things That Matter Most,” these topics are of utmost importance and are what the dying want to hear from their loved ones.

Do You Have Regrets?

If you are bothered by regrets about ways in which you might have hurt or disappointed your loved one or hurtful words you may have said in the past, deal with these regrets directly. Explain that you have been feeling regretful about something that happened. Briefly, describe the situation and say, “Please forgive me.” Doing so lets you know you have done what you could to heal a painful part of your relationship.

Are You Holding a Grudge?

Do you have hard feelings for something that happened in the past between you and your loved one? Saying, “I forgive you,” clears the way to be able to share meaningfully in the time remaining. Letting go of anger and hurt can also give you a sense of peace regardless of how your declaration of forgiveness was received.

What Are You Thankful For?

How has your loved one touched your life? Knowing that she added significance to your life supports dignity. A sincere and specific “Thank you,” lets your loved one knows that her living and life mattered to you and others.

How Should You Say “Goodbye?”

When your loved one is in hospice, it is important to remember that each “goodbye” might be the last time you speak. “See you later” or “Bye for now” may leave you wishing you’d said something more meaningful. Saying, “I love you,” or “You are important to me,” can avoid regrets later.

If you are unlikely to see your loved one again, you can acknowledge that you don’t know if you’ll be together again. Remind him how much he means to you. Don’t forget that you can communicate without words by touching. Gently placing a hand on your loved one’s hand or shoulder or arm says, “You are not alone.  I am here with you.”

Let Us Help

If you have questions regarding these or other concerns for the Aurum Network, contact us or call 978-282-9551. To locate a community within the Aurum Network, use our facility locator tool.

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