Supporting the Patient’s Family as Death Approaches


Provide Coaching Coaching families is important. This means sharing knowledge and supporting families as they learn and practice new caregiving skills.

Educate the family regarding the dying process and what to expect.

Assure them that their loved one is not suffering (if true). If patient in obvious distress inform them about the steps that will be taken to alleviate the distress

Educate the family that hearing and touch are usually the last senses to go. Thus they should be encouraged to communicate with the patient through touch and by assuring statements like:

“We love you.”

“We will always remember you.”

“It is OK to move on. We will be OK. Do not worry about us.”

“You are in a safe place. We are right here. We will take care of you.“

Provide the family with information that death is approaching so they can say farewell. Tell them that death is expect to occur in “ minutes to hours”, “hours to days” or “days to weeks”.

Educate the family not to withhold expressions of sadness. But do not force emotion that does not come naturally (for example, if the family members have been estranged from the patient, they may not feel sad about the death). Support them within their own premises.

When death is close at hand, encourage the family to focus on “being” rather than “doing”.

If religion has been a central dimension in the patient’s and family’s life, it will most likely remain important as death approaches.

If religion has not been a significant part of a person’s life, they may not turn to it as death approaches but sometimes they do.

The patient’s family needs recognition of the strain they are bearing and to be told that their care of the patient is very important.

If a patient is dying at home, caregivers often fear they are not doing things right and need to know what to do if an emergency occurs. Access (in-person or by telephone) to the professional team must be constant and speedy.

Source: VJ Periyakoil, MD and Betty Wexler, RN, CNS
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