When a person is under hospice care, they are not expected to live beyond six months. Hospice care marks a shift from undergoing curative treatments to focusing on making a person’s final days as comfortable as possible. Hospice addresses patients’ emotional and spiritual needs as well as their physical comfort during their final months, weeks and days.
This can be a challenging time for patients and their families as they are confronted with the imminent end of their life. It can be difficult to navigate, and some friends and family members struggle to find the right words when they visit or communicate with hospice patients.
How To Have A Conversation With A Hospice Patient
Unfortunately, many people are so worried that they will say the wrong thing or their intention will be misunderstood that they end up not saying anything at all. This can lead to deep regret after the person has passed away, and it is a missed opportunity to show someone how they have impacted your life.
Outlined below is guidance on communicating effectively with hospice patients.
Let The Patient Lead You
If possible, allow the patient to set the tone of your conversation. They may not be able to talk, but if they are, you can simply follow their lead. Many hospice workers note that patients often enjoy reviewing their lives and talking about cherished memories. However, keep in mind that people who were never very talkative are unlikely to change; do not pressure someone who does not appear to be in the mood for talking.
Use Conversation Starters
If you are nervous about how your conversation will go, it may be helpful to have a few conversation starters in mind that you can turn to if your loved one does not take the lead. You can talk about things you have in common with them, such as shared hobbies or favorite foods. You might also discuss a unique aspect of their life, such as time spent abroad or a remarkable accomplishment.
This may even present an opportunity for you to do something special for your loved one. If they mention a desire to eat a certain food or meal, for example, perhaps you could arrange to bring it to them the next time you visit.
Look To The Past
A person’s life history offers a trove of potential conversation topics. Whether or not you have known the patient for a long time, you can ask what their happiest moment in life was or inquire about the place they grew up and what they were like when they were younger. If you are very comfortable with the patient, you can even ask them about regrets or unresolved issues.
Be honest when talking to your loved one. You can tell them that you do not like what is happening to them and let them know you will miss them. If appropriate, it is also okay to ask for their forgiveness for a past transgression or tell them you have forgiven them. This can go a long way toward providing emotional healing. Hospice patients also appreciate hearing what they have meant to people and that they are loved.
Do Not Fear Silence
Periods of silence are normal in any conversation, and talking to hospice patients is no exception. Do not feel pressured to fill every second of silence with words. Keep in mind there are other ways you can communicate, such as by holding their hand or touching their arm. You can also say things like “It’s great to be here with you.”
You might consider listening to music, looking at photos or watching TV with them. All of these activities may lead to a deeper conversation, but simply being there with them can be enough for many patients.
Talk About Their Condition If They Want To
Some people think they are protecting their loved one by avoiding the topic of dying. However, hospice patients are typically aware of what is happening, and when no one is willing to broach the topic, they end up feeling isolated and lonely because they have no one to share their feelings with.
What You Should Not Say
If you are worried about saying the wrong thing, keep in mind there are only a few topics you should avoid. First, you do not want to give anyone false hope that they will recover. Be honest about their prospects when asked, and do not try to change their beliefs surrounding death.
Some people want to help their loved ones resolve any conflicts they have had in their lifetime, but it is important not to be forceful about this.
Get In Touch With The Caring Team at Harbor Light Hospice
Communicating with a loved one who is nearing the end of their life can be challenging, but hospice workers are a valuable source of guidance in saying the right things. Get in touch with the caring team at Harbor Light Hospice to find out how you can make your loved one’s final days as comfortable and emotionally fulfilling as possible.