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7 ways to support family or friends with a loved one in hospice care

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If you have a friend or family member with a loved one in hospice care, you may be seeking ways to show your support. It can be difficult to know how to reach out or what to say to someone who has family in hospice. This can be a big life change for people, and it’s natural to feel hesitant about reaching out or unsure of how to support the family of a dying patient. 

There are several ways you can show your love and support to family or friends. From offering emotional support to providing help with basic chores, your loved one will appreciate your effort and intention. Since it’s not always easy to know what to do for someone with family in hospice, we’ve provided a list of seven ways you can support them.

What to say to the family of a dying patient

Knowing what to say to someone with a loved one in hospice can be daunting. Put yourself in their shoes, and think about what you’d want to hear and what you wouldn’t want someone to say or ask. Make it about them and their feelings, and offer your unconditional support. If you need inspiration for specific things to say, use one of these prompts to get started:

  • I am here to support you however you need.
  • I’m so sorry to hear about your loved one’s condition.
  • How are you doing?
  • What can I do for you today?
  • I’m here to listen if you want to talk about it.
  • I know [name] is very special to you, and this must be very difficult.

What are the needs of the family of the dying patient?

People with a loved one in hospice may be dealing with feelings of stress and sadness as they move through the stages of grief. Because the patient is their priority, they may neglect care of themselves and could use help with basic errands and tasks, like picking up food. More than anything, someone with a dying loved one needs emotional support, patience, and understanding from those who care about them. 

What are some major concerns of family members of a dying patient?

There are many things a family with a dying loved one has to consider, including but not limited to the following:

  • Making decisions about the healthcare of their loved one, such as if hospice should be at home or in a facility. 
  • Making schedules of who will visit the patient. 
  • Determining whether the patient planned their end-of-life affairs, including an advance directive, will, and preferences for burial, memorials, and other end-of-life commemorations. 

Beyond these practical concerns, they also are thinking about how to give their loved one the best quality of life in their final days. 

How to support family or friends of a dying patient

  1. Provide emotional support 

One of the most important things you can do for a family with a loved one in hospice is offer emotional support. They may be dealing with mixed emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and stress while also experiencing anticipatory grief. You may not know what to say to someone who has a family in hospice, but that’s ok — they might simply want you to be present and listen. 

On the other hand, your loved ones may welcome the distraction from the stress and fear of the situation without talking about it. Instead, they might want to hear about you or even do something fun together without talking about what they’re going through. Ask them if they want to talk about their loved one and what they are feeling. It’s better to ask and not assume so you can honor their feelings. Follow their lead and offer whatever kind of emotional support they need at that moment. 

Read more: 10 special ways to say “you’ll be missed”

  1. Offer sympathy and empathy

Part of providing emotional support is offering sympathy, but knowing what to say in sensitive situations can be intimidating to people. If you are unsure what to say to someone with family in hospice, take heart in knowing that you’ll provide a lot of comfort simply by being empathic and acknowledging how hard it must be for them. It’s fine to ask how the patient or your friend is doing, but avoid intrusive questions about specifics that may upset your loved one, such as how much time the patient has left. Let them know you are ready to listen if and when they want to talk. 

Read more: Empathy vs. sympathy: definitions and differences

  1. Reach out often 

A caregiver, or anyone spending a lot of time with their loved one in hospice, is probably experiencing a massive shift in their routine. They may feel isolated and alone and miss their everyday social interactions. Reach out to them unobtrusively by sending a text or email so they know you are thinking of them. 

Let them know it’s ok if they don’t reply — the last thing you want to do is add more stress or items to their to-do list. This can be as simple as saying, “You are on my mind today. Just wanted to send you some love — no need to respond.” It will make them feel good knowing you are still thinking of them even when they don’t have the time or emotional capacity to reach back out. 

  1. Do their chores 

When someone is dying or has recently passed, it’s common for people to say things like, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Usually, the bereaved won’t feel comfortable responding with a list of tasks, so think of specific, helpful things you can offer to do. This could include mowing their lawn or doing other yard work, finishing household chores like laundry, dishes, or light housekeeping, stocking the pantry and putting ready-to-eat meals in the freezer, or taking their dog on a walk twice a day. You know your loved one’s life well enough to know what will help, so step in and do whatever you can to take some of the burden off. 

  1. Have meals delivered

People with a loved one in hospice often spend a lot of time at the person’s bedside and finding the time or energy to grocery shop and cook can be challenging. You can help relieve this burden, and make sure they are getting some nourishment, by having meals delivered to their home or hospice center. Send their favorite restaurant meals or arrange a delivery system with other friends or family members to take turns dropping off home-cooked meals that are easy to reheat. 

If their schedule is complicated and you don’t know the best times or locations to have food delivered, send them gift cards to their favorite restaurants or local delivery services like Doordash or Instacart. This is a nice way to ensure they can order food on their own schedule. 

Read more: How your diet can impact the way you cope with grief

  1. Give them tools for self-care

During this stressful and emotional time, your loved ones are probably not engaging in proper self-care. Good gifts for the family of a hospice patient include comforting things like cozy slippers, tea, sweets, a warm blanket, or some books they can read to the patient while they are sitting with them. Flowers are also a nice way to show you are thinking of them, and they might even brighten their day.

If their loved one is well enough and open to it, you could send a professional to the hospice location to give them both pedicures, manicures, or shoulder and feet massages. This can be a special way for the person in hospice and their family member to be pampered together. 

  1. Offer to hire a death doula

An end-of-life doula, also known as a death doula, provides emotional and spiritual support to a dying person and their loved ones. A death doula is trained in how to support the family of a dying patient and patient as well. Their tasks will vary, but one of the benefits of hiring a death doula is that they can provide companionship for the person in hospice, giving a break to exhausted family members. 

Death doulas can also help patients create end-of-life plans, complete small tasks, and provide resources and emotional support to everyone involved. Talk to your loved ones and ask if they’d be comfortable inviting a death doula into the process. Not everyone will be, so don’t take it personally if it’s not for them.

Even if you feel unsure how to support your loved one with a friend or family in hospice, remember that simply reaching out to offer love and support goes a long way. Death is an uncomfortable topic for most people, and the important thing is that you provide love and empathy. No matter what you do or say to support your family and friends with loved ones in hospice care, they’ll appreciate you showing up and knowing you are there for them. 

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