Visiting a Terminally Ill Loved One: How to Handle this Difficult but Important Act of Love

By: VGFS
Thursday, September 23, 2021

Watching once-vibrant friends or family members decline due to age or illness is never easy.

If you have a terminally ill loved one in your life, it can be difficult to know how to act in their presence. The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing may cause you to avoid them altogether. You may also be unfamiliar with hospice and palliative care, or a fear of death might be keeping you from visiting. Please know that this is common and normal.

If you find yourself avoiding visiting sick family or friends, we encourage you to read on for helpful guidance regarding this important act of love.

What is it like to visit a loved one who is about to pass away?

Not knowing what to expect in a hospice or palliative care setting is a common reason that people avoid the terminally ill who are nearing their passing. Prior to your visit, you may wish to speak with someone familiar with end-of-life care. Consider reaching out to home healthcare professional or a friend or family member who has spent time with someone who is dying. Getting another’s perspective can help you to visualize what to expect. They can also provide you with tips and guidelines for what you might say or do, as well as what you might avoid.

What do I say to someone who is nearing the end of life?

Finding the “right” words can be hard. The person is likely experiencing a range of emotions including anger, denial, and acceptance. Your emotions will not always align with theirs. People who are dying are feeling their way through this experience as well, so allow them to set the tone and then follow their lead. They may want you to make them laugh, pray with them, or reminisce about the past. They may need to vent about their declining quality of life or wish to avoid the topic altogether. You can just listen.  It is also perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t know what to say.” 

Will I regret not visiting a dying loved one?

You know that time is short with your friend or family member. Once they have passed on, you won’t have another opportunity to spend time with them again. Not visiting a terminally ill loved one when you had the chance can lead to lingering guilt. Keep in mind that this is also tremendously hard for the person whose life is nearing its end. Consider what they may need. Dying can be a very lonely experience. Even a short visit can be meaningful for them and for you.

Should I visit them alone?

You may be feeling pressure to say and do everything right, especially if you are visiting your loved one by yourself. If they are passing at home, ask if you can bring other family and friends. If they are in a facility, find out if you can come with another person. It can be uplifting for someone who is passing away to be surrounded by family and close friends. The visit can take on a more social and light-hearted tone and you won’t feel as pressured to say and do everything perfectly.

What should I do during my visit?

If you are visiting by yourself, you don’t have to sit by their side the entire time. For example, you might help tidy up their house, organize their bills, run errands, or play with their young children. You might also provide them with spiritual care. Reading their favorite Bible verses, singing their favorite hymns, or praying with them can be great sources of comfort. There are many ways to express love and care that don’t involve directly addressing heavy topics.

We hope that this article has helped you to feel more comfortable visiting a terminally ill loved one. Remember, you don’t have to know exactly what to say or do. Being there is the most important gift you can give to them and yourself.

If you need additional support or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to our caring staff anytime. It is always our pleasure to assist you.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

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