Visiting a loved one on hospice care can be a scary thing. You don’t know what to say. You are dealing with your own grief. You’re afraid you’ll make your dying loved one and their caregivers feel even more emotional. So you procrastinate or avoid a visit altogether.

But in order to say goodbye without regrets, how can you overcome your fears and hesitations? In hospice care, time is precious and fleeting. A final visit won’t just benefit you personally, but provides connection and comfort to the patient and their caregivers. Visiting someone on hospice communicates, “You matter to me. You are important. You are loved.”

Tips for Your Hospice Visit

  1. Call before you visit. Make sure the timing is good. Ask if you can bring a special food or drink or pick up something from the store or pharmacy.
  2. Bring pictures or mementos of your memories together.
  3. Sit comfortably by their side. Don’t look like you’re on the verge of leaving by standing or leaving on your jacket. 
  4. Give a hug or hold their hand. Don’t be afraid to touch them.
  5. If the patient is unresponsive and nonverbal, continue to talk to them. Studies show many can still hear. Read these tips for communicating when a patient can’t respond. Assume that they can hear you and only say things to them or in front of them that you would if they could respond.
  6. Listen if the patient wants to talk. Let them talk about fears, memories, or family — let them take the lead if they want to. Don’t correct them or minimize their feelings. 
  7. If they can’t talk, share with them your favorite memories. Tell them what you love about them.
  8. If they suffer from dementia and/or are confused about place and time, simply go with it. Don’t correct them. Ask questions of their perceived reality and reassure them they are safe.
  9. Visit more than once, but don’t make promises if you cannot.
  10. Send letters, call or send video messages. This will encourage them and their caregivers. 

Using the Memory Journal as a Guide

Heart to Heart Hospice provides a Memory Journal to patients so they, along with their family members, can record important parts of their legacy. Patients may share new things about their past or dreams that are surprising to their loved ones.

Using the Memory Journal can help foster important conversations in those final months. It offers guided questions on childhood, family history, lifelong dreams, funny memories, marriage, children, jobs, spiritual life, and more. It offers a place for self-reflection and recording messages for future generations. Don’t feel pressure to complete the whole journal; capture the answers that are important to your family. While the patient or the caregiver is the primary person filling out the Memory Journal, visitors can also use it as prompts for conversation. 

The Memory Journal serves several purposes:

  • The journal provides one place for patients and families to capture life history, stories, memories, and heartfelt messages. 
  • If they are able, the journal allows the patient a mechanism to leave messages they are comfortable writing, but not articulating out loud.
  • Family members of non-communicative patients can answer the prompts to the best of their ability to document their own memories or stories shared by the patient.
  • The journal helps loved ones create new memories as they connect over shared family stories.
  • The journal helps facilitate communication during a hospice visit. 
    • For example, if a daughter is struggling to know what to say to her dying father, she can use the journal to ask questions. Or she can read some of the prompts and share her own “dad memories” based on the topics in the Memory Journal. She could ask, “When were you most proud of us, dad?” or “I loved it when we drove around looking at Christmas lights in our PJs. What were some of your favorite traditions?”

It’s been said, “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” Capturing memories and spending time with loved ones on hospice is priceless. Recording their legacy will help you laugh, cry, grieve, and rejoice.