Talking to Loved Ones

No two families are alike

There is no one way to share the information about the impending loss of a loved one because every family is different. But we have helped families through this process since 1985, and have some advice we’d like to share.

Notifying loved ones

One way to share news is to tell one trusted family member or friend, and ask that person to share the information with others. 

Another method is to hold a family meeting, perhaps with a doctor and social worker present, to absorb and process information together and answer as many questions immediately as possible.

“Is there anything I can do?”

Many people ask what they can do to help. It is a good idea to consider this in advance and tell them, so they will have direction rather than doing something that they feel is necessary but which the patient may not need or want. In reality, many patients need people to help them continue to experience life even while dying.

Here are some suggestions that patients have given us over the years:

  • Visiting with the patient during times of day that are “difficult” for the patient
  • Talking about the diagnosis and condition
  • Having conversations about things not related to the illness
  • Helping the patient participate in enjoyable activities or accomplishing day-to-day tasks
  • Accompanying the patient while walking the dog or going to the store.

Talking about death and dying

People are often surprised to find that a dying person may want to talk about what is happening to them. They are often also wondering what they can say to you. Talking about death can be stressful to all involved. It can also be therapeutic and helpful. Not everyone will want to talk, but here are some techniques for opening the topic for those who do.

  • Ask, “Do you remember …?” Or “I was just thinking about the time . . .” Most dying people are still interested in the same things they were before they knew they were dying. Such talk is what keeps quality in the day-to-day life of a dying person.
  • Just listen. Be present. Ask a question. Wait for the answer and don’t try to solve the issue. Just hear it.
  • Ask questions such as, “How are you doing physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?”
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Not all silence needs to be awkward. A calm presence is often all a dying person wants.

Sharing Last Wishes

There will probably come a point when the patient will want to share how he or she would like things to be handled at the end of life; what kind of treatments are not wanted, and how arrangements and details will be handled once the person has died. 

A close friend or family member who is comfortable with discussing these topics should document the wishes of the patient so they can be carried out by the family.

Look into the Center for Hospice Care Advance Care Plan for details and help.


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