When communicating with a loved one in a hospital, most of us rely on hopeful, kind words. If there’s any chance for improvement, there are plenty of encouraging phrases to turn to. However, things get complicated when your friends or family members are in hospice care, or end-of-life care. Here’s our advice on what to say when someone is in hospice.
What Is Hospice Care?
Before learning what to say to hospice patients, it’s important to understand what hospice care is. Put simply, hospice is a special type of care that focuses on improving the quality of life. Rather than treatment, it centers around making patients comfortable. Hospice patients usually remain in the hospital, although there are varying levels of hospice care, some of which allow for the patient to receive care at home instead.
Unlike palliative patients, hospice patients have no chance of recovery. This is usually because they’re terminally ill or because the side effects of their treatment are too debilitating. Either way, it can be hard to find the right words when speaking to a dying person.
Why Is Communicating With Hospice Patients Important?
Whether the hospice patient is a family member or a friend, it’s important that you don’t say the wrong thing. These will be the final words they hear from you — the last thing you want is for your loved one to be left with a bad impression. Here are some ideas on what to say to someone in hospice.
Let Them Know You Accept Their Decision
Many times, patients with a serious illness choose to transfer to hospice without the approval of their loved ones. While dying people can accept the realities of hospice, friends and family often cling to the hope that recovery is possible.
If you’ve been protesting against the hospice decision, it’s important you show your loved one that you both accept and support their decision. Stay focused on their needs, not your personal hopes.
Show Them You’ll Be Okay
As you consider what to say to someone who’s dying in hospice, try putting yourself in their shoes. There’s a good chance they’re worried about how you’re going to feel after they pass away. Some common emotions that hospice patients experience include:
You can make your loved one feel more comfortable by showing them you’ll be okay. Demonstrate that you’ll miss them, but also provide reassurance by asking them not to worry about you.
Tell Them What They Mean to You
If you’re not a very emotional person, you may have avoided having deep conversations with your loved one. However, this will be your only chance to connect on a deeper level and tell them what they really mean to you. Let them know how much joy they’ve brought to your life by sharing the following:
- Your favorite memories with them
- The personality traits you admire
- The life lessons they’ve taught you
Try to maintain eye contact as this will help emphasize your emotions. Ultimately, being open about these feelings can help your loved one feel happier as they approach the end of life.
Write Meaningful Notes
If you’re having difficulty finding the right things to say, consider communicating in a different way (such as through writing). Advantages of writing include:
- Ability to plan ahead
- Reduced emotional interference
- Provides a memento
Writing a card or note instead of talking lets you plan what you want to say ahead of time. This helps ensure you share everything you want to while simultaneously reducing the risk of saying the wrong thing. You can also express all the things you want to say without emotions like sadness or anger getting in the way. Finally, a card serves as a memento your loved one can look at or read multiple times.
The most meaningful notes should include details about the person’s life. Ultimately, you don’t want a cookie-cutter card that could apply to anyone — you want a card that’s personal and intimate.
Take the Time to Listen
While it’s important to communicate with hospice patients, make sure you’re not doing all the talking. Listening is just as important (if not more important) than speaking — this is your chance to share your thoughts and feelings, but it’s also your loved one’s chance to reveal how they feel.
When listening to someone in hospice care, try to be sympathetic. Hospice patients may be tired, worried or even in denial about their own condition, which can make it difficult for them to talk. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t say the exact right words and trust that they’re doing the best they can.
Talk to the Hospice Nurse
If you’re unsure what to say, it might be helpful to speak with your loved one’s nurse or primary caretaker. As the person who’s been taking care of them during their hospice stay, the nurse may know things you don’t. Many patients choose to confide in nurses about their real emotions, hopes and worries. Some questions you might want to ask include:
- How is my loved one feeling?
- Is there anything you think they need to hear from me?
- What can I do to make them feel better?
Hospice nurses want patients to be happy just as much as you do, so you can trust them to give you helpful advice.
Choose the Right Environment
The environment your loved one stays in can influence how they communicate with you. A depressing, isolated atmosphere is bound to make them quiet and reluctant to talk. On the other hand, a positive, open environment can help improve moods and encourage honesty.
At PRN Hospice, we’re committed to creating a comfortable, high-quality end-of-life experience for hospice patients. Our staff of compassionate caregivers includes the following:
- Professional physicians
- Registered and licensed vocational nurses
- Medical social workers
- Certified home health aides
- Spiritual coordinators
- Bereavement coordinators
- Volunteer coordinators
We don’t just cater to patients’ physical needs — we strive to address holistic health concerns by improving both mental and spiritual wellness. By providing a reassuring environment, we hope to make every patient (and their family members) feel more comfortable having those difficult conversations. If you do need assistance, our team is always here to help. Learn more by contacting us today.