What can I say to reassure someone who is dying?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I would like to know five things to help reassure a dying patient.

Expert Answer

Audrey Wuerl, RN, BSN, PHN, is education coordinator for Hospice of San Joaquin in California. She is also a geriatric trainer for the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), which promotes education in geriatric nursing and end-of-life care.

Knowing "the right thing to say" is probably the most difficult problem for people trying to reassure someone who is dying. I think that it is important to remember the person is aware that something is terribly wrong--his/her body is telling them so. But, often we "tiptoe" around the issue of death (like an elephant in the room) because we don't want to upset our loved one. We simply can't find the right words to say.

I can give you five things to help with your situation, and they will have to do with the hospice philosophy of care at the end of life. 1) You can assure the person will have their pain addessed and controlled; 2) You can assure them their troublesome symptoms will be controlled; 3) You can assure them they will have time to reflect on the wonderful things they have accomplished, and share those memories; 4) You can assure them they will have time to say good-bye (as will you); and 5) You can assure them they are valued and they will be missed.

Saying good-bye, I forgive you, or I love you are important tasks that need to be accomplished at the end of life--for the patient and for the family. When we treat a person with dignity and respect, we allow this process to move forward.