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How do I prepare to be with people who suffer and are afraid of dying?

David Kessler
Hospice & Palliative Medicine

Allowing the dying to be heard is one of the greatest gifts that we can offer them. Medical professionals are taught that listening is a way of gathering information and assessing a patient’s physical and psychological condition. Even more, listening itself is a pow­erful way of giving comfort. Loved ones and friends often arrive at the hospital in a panic, afraid to see someone who is facing death. Not knowing what to say, they often turn to the nurse or doctor and ask: “What do we do? What do we say?” The answer is always to listen, just listen. Listen to them complain. Listen to them cry. Listen to them laugh. Listen to them reminisce. Listen to them talk about the weather or talk about death. Just listen.

People who are facing life-challenging illnesses will tell you everything you need to know: how they feel about their situation and—if they’re comfortable talking about it—how they would like to die.

Your preparation is simple. Just be who you are! Be aware of why you want to be around people who are dying and what you want to do for them. Then just be! The people who are dying will feel comforted by your authentic presence and the skills that you bring. Learning to be quiet and to listen helps alot. Developing comforting skills that you can use to bring about a pleasant experience for dying people are the icing on the cake such as: Massage therapy, storytelling, remeniscing, reading, crafts, and activities that elicit joy work best.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.