How to Support the Dying Process


(reprinted with permission from “The Ribbon” June 25, 1999, Vol. 2, Issues 12)

There is no "right" way to behave toward a dying person. There are, however, some general principles to remember that will enhance effectiveness and make time together more meaningful. Because each person is different, the information presented here can offer only general guidelines. Each person can then incorporate the suggestions into his or her own particular style and method of interacting with the dying person. In what follows, the time frame for working with a dying person will be addressed in three sections: Before, During, and After.


In the time preceding the death of the patient, the most important thing to remember is be there.

  • Be there consistently, as often as the patient wants, and as frequently as the time schedule permits.

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

  • Listen more than talk. Follow the dying person's agenda as time is spent with them. If dialogue becomes difficult, look around the room for clues about the person's friends, family and support systems.

  • 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 state to state, 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 of the patient's dying, the most important thing to remember, once again, is be there.

  • The most helpful things to remember are touch & 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 patient and family members, friends, spouse, and partners to have time alone with the patient 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 to remember is 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.

The above guidelines have been adapted from Charles Meyer's book,"Surviving Death - A practical guide to carying for the dying and the bereaved."

Adapted from: The AIDS/HIV Support Handbook
Christina Polcari, LMSW
TLC Group - Dallas, TX 1995

Available from ElderCare Online™                   1999 Prism Innovations, Inc.