Physiological & Social Comfort

The psychological challenge involves the need for security and the need for some sense that one is still in control. With life beginning to slip away, the psychological part of the being still has a natural need to feel it is anchored in life. This part is inclined to worry about loose ends which need to be handled. Reassurance can be provided by family members and friends, providing relaxation and peace of mind which might not come otherwise. 

The social needs relate to family and friendship connections, and the need to keep valued attachments. Quality of life for many is dependent upon the quality of relationships with others. Nurturing a loving connection with a dying person can be invaluable. Even when communication becomes difficult, loving touch, holding a hand or giving eye contact can be deeply meaningful. Hospice can help family and friends provide this. There is a need to know that one’s life has made a difference to others and that one will be remembered. 


For Family 

Talking with your dying loved one allows you to express your love for each other, share stories of your time together and prepare to say good-bye. Talking draws the dying person and their family closer together and allows them to validate and confirm the significance of the relationship in their lives. It confirms the dying person as a treasured love one and it allows them to do the same for you. It gives you a chance to acknowledge past hurts or unresolved conflicts which begin to heal by giving and receiving forgiveness. Talking opens the door for meaningful conversations that can guide one towards a sense of inner resolution. 

Sharing Wishes for Care 

Meaningful conversations explore what is important to the dying person and help the caregiver to better understand how their loved one wants to be cared for in their remaining time. You can take comfort in knowing that you are offering the kind of care your love one wants while respecting their wishes. 

Discussing the Future 

Conversation provides the opportunity for family members to talk about how their lives will continue without their loved one and to clarify their future goals and aspirations. This can reassure the dying person that their love one has a vision for the future and will be able to go on without them. 

When Communication Becomes One Way 

Talking is just one of many of the ways we communicate. 70% of our communication is nonverbal. Hand holding, eye contact, loving touch, a kiss, a smile, a squeeze, just being present communicate as well. Your loved one will progress to the point where talking requires too much energy, but that doesn’t mean you should withdraw. This is when your loved one needs to feel and hear your presence the most. 

Source: Marty Hogan, L. (2011). Compassionate Conversations for Caregivers. Ashland, Oregon: Sacred Vigil Press. 


For Friends 

How Deeply to Be Involved 

Unlike close family members who may be responsible for most or much of the care, a friend of a dying person needs to think about how much to be involved. The amount of time you spend with an acquaintance who is ill probably will differ from that spent with one to whom you’re very close. The degree of involvement that seems to work best is the same or a little more than before illness set in, but it’s important to decide consciously how great or little that involvement will be. 

Suggestions for what to say, if you visit 

You may want to reflect in advance about how to help and what to say. Remember, there is no one “right” thing to say. Dying people need the company of those who will listen, who are willing to understand their situations, and who continue to offer love and friendship in the face of death. Some conversation starters: 

“Can you tell me what’s happening?” 

“I really feel sad when I think about what’s happening to you.” 

Many dying people say they are lonely, not only because people don’t visit, but also because of what happens when people do visit. In general, it is not helpful to avoid conversations about what is happening to the dying person. This can cause the dying person to feel more isolated. It is usually best to allow the dying person to talk about what is happening to them and listen. 

If you decide not to visit,send a card, flowers or offer specific help – to run an errand, grocery shop, provide needed household help and then follow through. Honest, loving attempts to help are almost always well received. 


From a Distance 

Today, many family and friends live far apart. There are many reasons visiting a dying loved one is not possible due to distance, health, family or work-related obstacles. There are many ways to express your love and support from a distance. 

Recognize What is Taking Place 

  • Send a card to say “I’m thinking of you” 
  • Send flowers, balloons, pictures from your past together
  • Make a phone or video call or leave a spoken message 

Recorded Messages 

One meaningful way to express love and support from a distance is to coordinate and send recorded messages. Hearing is the last sense that we lose, so recorded messages from family and friends to a dying loved one may provide a meaningful support when being there in person is impossible. 

Patient Websites – Caring Bridge 

Patient websites are another way to remain connected and provide support from a distance. CaringBridge is an example of a patient website that helps keep loved ones informed during a significant health challenge. It offers free patient websites to bring people together by simplifying communication, reducing the time and emotional energy spent on repeated phone calls and e–mails. It keeps everyone informed with the same, accurate information. 

Caring Bridge websites also offer friends and family the opportunity to provide encouragement to the patient and each other by connecting a patient’s entire community, creating a network of support for everyone involved. Family and friends can post messages of love, hope and compassion from around the world. Go to to start a site. 



Hospice programs have come to increasingly recognize the value of animal therapy at the end of life. This is especially helpful for those who have always had pets in their lives. Animals provide comfort, strength, a loving presence and warmth. They don’t have the human need to express comfort with words. Oftentimes, an unconditionally loving, non-verbal presence is what a patient needs most. The effect is visibly soothing.  When in an institution, pet therapy animals are specially chosen and trained and have a calm temperament. 


  • Dogs and cats both have great emotional value for humans – the unspoken communion can bring a sense of peace.
  • When a patient feels isolated, pets can provide companionship 
  • Self-consciousness that human interactions sometimes evoke is not an issue (pets have no judgment and love us regardless) 
  • Pets relax and calm us, and take our mind off human things. 
  • Pets provide a sense of security and protection. 

Debra Strang, a hospice worker in Kansas City, has written a book on the topic, entitled Hospice Tails: The Animal Companions Who Journey with Hospice Patients and Their Families.  

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