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Do I Have To Tell My Loved One He's Dying?

By August 28, 2010

As a hospice admission nurse, I get this question a lot.  Family members want to know whether we can hide the fact that the patient is on hospice care and dying.  They'll ask if we can turn our badges around (my company's name has the word "hospice" in the title) and say we are visiting nurses helping the patient get better.  They request that we don't use the words "death" or "dying" around the patient.   They worry that their loved one, armed with this knowledge, will give up and die faster.

Ask any hospice worker and you'll discover how uncomfortable this makes us.  We want to honor cultural, religious, and personal beliefs but we know that ignoring the elephant in the room is never a good thing.  We've seen the amazing work that can be done at the end of life by patients who know their time is short.  We've witnessed the peaceful death of so many who had time to plan and prepare for the end and we've seen the flip side too.  We've seen patients who didn't have the chance to complete important tasks at the end of life struggle through the dying process.  We also know that just as you can't hide the fact that a woman in labor is going to have a baby, you can't hide the inevitability of death from a person who is dying.

So, do you have to tell your dying loved one that they are dying?  No, of course not.  Should you consider doing it anyway?  Read ahead....

My Loved One is Dying.  Do I Have to Tell Him?


Comments
September 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm
(1) Pam Brown says:

Thank you for this insight about being honest with those that are dying. Just out of curiosity, what are the end of life tasks you mention in your article that are important to the dying?

September 6, 2010 at 4:40 pm
(2) Pat says:

My husband who is 90 years old has been in a hospice residence for the past 9-1/2 months. He is very clear-headed and communicative, although his body is failing more every day. He still thinks there is a chance he will come home and I will do nothing to encourage that thinking or most importantly, I do nothing to discourage this because I don’t want to destroy what hope he has. He is a very cooperative patient the nurses and caretakers all love him and marvel at what a sweet, gentle man he is. I am 80 years old and although my health is fairly good, I know there is no way I could care for him at home. He is receiving such tender loving care and I know that is helping to prolong his life. I do not think he realizes what hospice actually is and I believe that by the time he does realize that he is dying, that it will be a relief for him. Hospice care has been a life saver for me and I have made so many good friends this past year and am happy that I have been able to share this gentle loving person with so many people. My sincere thanks to all of you wonderful caregivers.

September 6, 2010 at 6:55 pm
(3) Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC says:

Thank you, Angela, for shedding light on this important topic. Your readers may find this article of interest as well: Should I Tell My Dad He’s Dying? at http://www.selfhealingexpressions.com/dying.shtml

September 14, 2010 at 12:35 am
(4) Norine Dresser says:

Personally speaking, it’s so much easier to discuss your loved one’s terminal condition with him or her. This is not the time for secrets. I speak from my own experience. During the last year of my husband’s life in hospice, we could meet the inevitable with calm. In fact, we even had moments of joy, witness this 85-year-old man spontaneously dancing with a belly dancer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf5M-kmCATE

Confronting a loved one’s death as a team bolsters everyone. You can learn even more in my new book, co-authored by Fredda Wasserman for OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center, SAYING GOODBYE TO SOMEONE YOU LOVE: YOUR EMOTIONAL JOURNEY THROUGH END OF LIFE AND GRIEF.

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