Watching a loved one progress through a terminal illness is never easy. People in this stage of life naturally experience many different emotions including anger, frustration, guilt, depression and uncertainty. Your feelings are certain to be complex too. In addition to dealing with your own emotions, it is important to provide your loved one with the right level of support. This helps to ease their burden, provides them with opportunities to continue enjoying the time they have left and ultimately, can make their passing easier on the entire family.

The Importance of Being There

Family caregivers often have a difficult time understanding how exactly to help a loved one with a life-limiting illness. The truth is, just being there is one of the most important things you can do. Provide a calm presence. Use your words and body language to express your desire to be there and help them through this. Hold hands, offer hugs, brush their hair or simply let them talk through their feelings.

Expressing Feelings

Provide your loved one with opportunities to express what they are thinking and feeling. They might talk about fears or uncertainties. They might also need time to reflect on the things they have accomplished in life or how they feel their life has had purpose. Whatever direction the conversation moves in, listen actively. Ask questions. Let them know that you want to hear what they have to say.

Hearing Messages from Others

Sometimes, hearing the words of others can help a loved one to cope with the dying process. Reading poems, articles or stories out loud is one way to expose them to the messages others have shared. Ask your hospice nurse or volunteer to share stories too or provide reassuring messages about what to expect.


Physical contact provides comfort throughout various stages at the end of life. In the pre-active and active stage of dying, patients often feel restless. An increased need for sleep is common. Many become inwardly focused. This is sometimes not the time for talking, but touch can make a difference. A simple shoulder massage, a grasp of the hand or stroking the head are some ways to show a loved one that you are there, present and walking with them through this difficult stage in life. These simple gestures provide peace and a sense of closeness, and they can relieve physical pain and emotional uncertainty.

Terminal Agitation

While your hospice team will remain close by and on-call especially in the later stages of the dying process, family members are often the first to know that their loved ones are close to passing. One sign that death is near is something called terminal agitation. Seniors may become restless, start to fidget a lot, pick at covers, and attempt to pull clothes off or even hallucinate and become combative. If you see this, the best way to support your loved one is by contacting the Salus Homecare Orange County hospice team. Changes in medications or other interventions are often appropriate at this time to help manage agitation and better control any physical pain.

The importance of having family nearby after a life-limiting diagnosis is made cannot be overstated. Just being there for your loved one makes this time in life easier and more comfortable too. Make it a point to remain present as much as possible. Talk to them, use the power of touch and stay in contact with your hospice team. This helps to provide comfort and dignity in this final stage of life and can make the process of passing easier for the entire family to cope with.