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How to Support the Dying

There is no “right way” to behave toward a dying person. There are, however, some general principles that will enhance the effectiveness of your support and make your time together more meaningful.


  • In the time preceding the end of life, the most important thing to remember is simply to be there.

  • Be there consistently, as often as the dying person wants, and as frequently as your time schedule permits.

  • Maintain contact on a regular basis over a period of time, so the dying person will feel comfortable with sharing thoughts, feelings, fears, wishes, dreams, and hopes.

  • Listen more than talk. Follow the dying person’s agenda as time is spent with them.

  • To avoid Emergency Medical Services for a death in the home, it is wise to talk with the physician prior to this as well as the funeral home. Laws vary from place to place so it is important to have these arrangements made in advance.

  • At an appropriate time it is important to raise the issue of death planning.


  • During the actual time when it is clear that someone is dying, the most important thing to remember once again, is be there.

  • The most helpful things to remember are touch and talk. Touch and hearing are the last two senses to diminish as one dies. Even comatose and sedated people can hear and feel touch.

  • At all times, the caregivers and family members need to explain to the dying person what is being done and by whom. From fluffing a pillow to changing the sheets, dying persons must be treated as though they were fully aware of their surroundings. Let them also know who is in the room; tell him or her who is touching an arm or patting a shoulder. Remind them of the time and date.

  • Do not talk about the dying person in the past tense, as though already deceased. This can be very upsetting for one who can hear but not respond to the conversation.

  • It is very important, especially during the hours and minutes immediately preceding death, that arrangements be made for the family members, friends, spouse, and partners to have time alone with the dying - to hold, to touch, to say things one last time before they part.


  • Following the death, whether immediately or long term, again the most important thing is to be there.

  • Be attentive to family and friends without being obtrusive.

  • Be available to listen.

  • Don’t be reluctant to frequently mention the deceased’s name and encourage reminiscing by family members.

  • Most Important: maintain contact with the survivors long after everyone else has gone back to their own lives.

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