What do you say to a friend under hospice care? Hot Conversation

Today I called my friend who’s been battling cancer. She told me that the doctors had stopped her chemo. Now she has “hospice people” coming in every day.

What words should I have used and what can I say in the coming days when I visit her?

She is a writing buddy. Besides her published stuff, I know her unfinished plays, her unfinished novel, her so many yet unfinished artistic multi-media projects….

Can I even talk about my new novel that will be published long after she’s gone?

Posted in family & relationships.

Related posts:

  1. Warning: Writing can become addictive. Handle with care.
  2. Medical studies about cancer and lying
  3. Cancer Care Scare
  4. My new novel, The Long Night Moon; it saved my sanity.
  5. What do you think we need in a national health care system.

add your responses

12 Responses

  1. JoyfulC JoyfulC says

    Well, this is a tuff one, but it can be such a special time for both of you to connect in these last days or weeks. You have to be honest with her, and first thing, ask her what it is that she needs from you? Does she need someone to just sit with her, in silence, or watch a movie, or read to her, how special that would be. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter if you feel uncomfortable about it, step out of your space and into hers. It will be a gift to just be present for her. She may want you to just make her laugh with stories or talk about good times. You won’t know what to say or do until you ask HER what her needs are. Take this opportunity to be a special part of her final days, for her and you.

    Do it with joy in your heart, not sadness. And you will find your way with it.

    Take care


    9 like

  2. Generic Image pmc says

    iN MANY CASES.you arive almost spechless.

    But,you can say,  Ive been lucky to have a sister,friend (what ever it be) like you .

    Id like to thankyou ,for things I learnd as we grewup.They ve help me in somany ways.


    4 like

  3. Dr.She Dr.She says

    You’ve gotten excellent advice here. I’ve sat with friends and family ready to leave this season of life for the next one. I’ve handled each one differently according to their needs and desires. One just wanted me being there, holding his hand and listening. Another wanted to share stories about what was done before. Another wanted me to make a list of things left undone to ensure that I finish them the way she wanted. It really just depends on what the person going through it wants and needs.

    The time in Hospice is different for each person.  Here is just a thought I had while writing this to you. I know you to be an author because of your previous writings here and because you said this friend is a writing buddy. One thought of a memorial for your friend is to take her unfinished work and complete it; each friend writing a chapter and dedicating it to your friend.  For an example of this idea, check out the Talking Manatee where each chapter was written by a different author even though it is only one story.

    Best of luck to you.  The biggest thing to remember is to be you, to be there, and to let your heart be open.

    6 like

  4. AuthorTalia AuthorTalia says

    Today I visited my friend. She’s a skeleton, but beautiful. Few people could pull off no hair and soap-and-water face. Her smile was unchanged.

    We chatted naturally. Some topics presupposed that she wouldn’t be around, e.g., I suggested she put many of her short writing pieces into a Print-On-Demand book for her family to cherish just as she had found her own grandmother’s hand-written journals; she told me her daughter had videoed her for her children, telling them about her earlier life and her family’s in another country.

    While I was there, my husband called and asked to speak with her. He later told me how he said to her that she was very special, that he’d always kept her in high regard, had enjoyed her intelligence, etc. To me these were more of parting words than I was capable of saying.

    I still did not say good-bye. There must be a next time.

    4 like

    • Storytaker Storytaker says


      I’m sure your visit meant more to her than she was able to express.  I think we all have the tendency to not visit the critically ill because we don’t know what to say or myself – I don’t want to intrude.  I recently had a friend die from pancreatic cancer.   It meant the world to her when people contacted her – she didn’t want to be forgotten.   Thanks for sharing your visit. 

      3 like

      • Generic Image Moving forward says

        I am a cancer survivor and have empathy for both you and your friend. It was an odd feeling to have people that were important to me pull away when I was very ill. I understand that they did not know what to say or “do”. Sometimes I did not know what I needed, but the best comfort was someone who just sat with me. No particular need for conversation, just be there. If you are uncomfortable with reaching out to her, step outside yourself and into their heart…you will not regret it.

        4 like

      • Storytaker Storytaker says

        Moving Forward – yes, I did step out of my comfort zone and contact her.  We had lunch a few times, talked on the phone and I sent her cards.  I also knitted her a prayer shawl and gave to her.  She told me before she died that the shawl meant so much to her.  I was so glad I didn’t just do nothing.

        4 like

  5. Susan McGraw Susan McGraw says

    Your friend is nearing the end of her journey and your visits with her mean more than you can imagine.  If hospice care has begun to come and her chemotherapy treatments have ended, there is nothing further medicine or the doctors can do for her. In time she will no doubt require palliative care for pain as her cancer progresses. She will be increasingly tired and grow weaker.  I know this as I am a hospice care volunteer.  Before I became certified I had the experience of seeing my former husband die from cancer.  In the last year of his life I visited several days a week to help care for him as he struggled desperately to defy the throat cancer that would claim him.  A writer and poet after he could no longer practice law, he longed to see his child graduate from school and go to college.  He longed to live until Christmas, until Valentines Day and then his birthday in April. He had hope where there was none and he was both terrified and angry with the God he did not believe in. I was uncertain how to respond to many of his questions, typed on a keyboard with screen as he could no longer speak.  What seemed to come naturally was my ability to listen and his desire to be heard.  I let him guide our conversation and when he asked me if he was dying and he looked directly into my eyes seeking the truth, I was stunned but did not show it.  I thought rapidly and gently said “Do you mean tonight?” and he nodded.  Evening brings greater anxiety to the patient and I knew his agitation was setting in. I said “Yes, but not tonight.  I am dying as well.  We are dying together, only you are closer than I am right now…your soul will not die just because the house it lives in can not go on.”  It was for me a crossover from denial to reality.  The patient lets you know when they are ready as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in her book “On Death and Dying”, and as her friend follow her as she brings you to the place she wants to be…it may be she will laugh and act as though all is “normal” and you will feel uneasy knowing it is not so.  The decline and passage to the end is fraught with attempts to stablize normality while accepting the inevitable.  As a writer, she may be comforted to hear her own work read aloud.  I read my former spouse’s poetry to him and it soothed him.  Sometimes he was able to fall asleep as I read aloud. 

    What you can say is the truth…you love and care for her whenever the opportunity arises and is not forced. It is obvious to her that those declarations are already stated in your efforts to be there for her now.  Your gift of friendship is  already spoken by your being present for her in this time of need.  “Words” are often not necessary…your expression speaks volumes, your hugs, your holding her hand.  Find common memories where the two of you laughed in a particular situation…perhaps you can relive that memory and for that moment, laugh again.  It is push and pull of sadness and love combined and she understands you are nervous.  I have found the caregiver is more outwardly nervous than the actual dying patient.  As to your own book to be published…has she been interested in your work all along?  Would she be pleased to know you were to be published or would she feel remorse with her own incomplete works to be left behind? Will it make her happy to know of your success or will she only be reminded of her impending death leaving works incomplete?  As a writer you know your work is a part of your life in words…your expression of how you perceive life.  What reason is there to reveal this to her?  If it is truly because she has always been supportive of you and your work she may find happiness in your success…but perhaps not because she is dying.  You will have to leave that to your instincts…I think you know the answer now.  Her time is limited and she will be actively fading with each week that goes by.  Don’t collapse and don’t try to be brave either…the patient knows and they need you to let them go when the time is right for them.  Let her steer you and it will be fine.  You are a good friend to be with her…that is what is so important…that she is not alone and those who are her friends and family do come and share these days and weeks with her as often as possible.  I am sorry for your impending loss, a dear friend.  Blessings to you both.

    10 like

    • AuthorTalia AuthorTalia says

      Wow. Thank you for your writing and giving me so much. I had gone through my father’s death to cancer and had seen him wasted. But I did not feel the fear and anger on behalf of the patient as I imagine my friend’s is.

      I am her writing buddy for over a decade, which exposes a writer a lot more than in most social settings. It’s not necessarily that each piece of writing is personal, although it may be, but reviewing each other’s work and discussing it bring out a lot of personal stuff or shows the way a particular writer thinks.

      Also, as couples my husband and I have socialized with her and her husband. We’ve attended each other’s family occasions (children’s weddings, baby showers). But we are not BEST friends in the sense of having a close day-to-day contact, so I can’t barge in past our boundaries. Nevertheless, I am devastaed.

      In terms of care, her husband is very good at it. He is a pharmacist, but now stays home with her most days. So he obviously knows what to give her and when. He’d helped her battle and defeat advance colon cancer over 20 years ago, causaly unrelated to this cancer. But now he breaks down and cries often. He will be the one needing attention after she’s gone.

      I brought her a small planted Hydrangea in magnificent blue. Three flowers are blooming, two buds will open in the coming couple of weeks, and one bud later. I just hope that she will live to enjoy them.

      Thank you all for your support.

      3 like

      • Susan McGraw Susan McGraw says

        Dear Talia,

        You could not be more correct in pointing out how her husband will need attention and care after your friend is gone.  In fact, right now as a caregiver, he needs respite from being the main person in his wife’s life to administer to her all the necessary care and fragile emotional support.  The caregiver needs to take “care” of him/herself.  Another way to help your friend is to provide time for her husband to do something that would allow him to have time to rest. Perhaps taking a walk, a couple of hours to see a film, read a novel, go out with his “buddies” one evening.  That too is a gift you give to your friend because it allows her husband time to recharge and rebuild his emotional and physical strength.  He is under great stress and he needs friends to watch out for him as well.  Sometimes the caregiver feels they should not, can not, leave the patient, their beloved, even for a moment.  That is not so.  They need to take a break.  The hydrangea flowers are lovely…budding flowers are signs of hope and life and in that message she may be given the beauty of that meaning, especially if she is a spiritual or religious woman.  Knowing that her writing will live on forever as a testament to her existence here on earth will also have great meaning to her.  Perhaps as one of the other contributors said, she may welcome your offer to complete her work.  As partners, she had chosen you to collaborate with because she respects you as a writer.  *Breaking down and crying is her husband’s relief…it allows him to exhaust the pented up emotions he holds inside so his wife won’t see him cry…it is alright for him to cry with her…to reveal himself.  All too often the caregiver feels they must be stoic…this is not good for patient or caregiver.  They need to be able to open the doors and express their feelings.  It allows the experience for both to be honest, loving, and come full cycle.  I am thinking of your friend, you, her husband and all those that love her…let us know what she has published so we too can celebrate her life by reading her work!  Prayers to all.

        3 like

  6. Rose Lamatt Rose Lamatt says

    We all go through this one way or another. Life just comes up and grabs us, shakes us around, and lets us know we are not in control. First of all tell her you love her, and you will always be with her, if need be till they end. What you see in her face, is what she sees in yours.  

    5 like

  7. AuthorTalia AuthorTalia says

    It took a long time, especially at the very end, but my friend Anna finally passed away 6 days ago. Her family put their lives on hold, staying with her full time. Her husband was the nurse–fed, bathed and changed her. Just amazing how devoted and tender he was. In my visits, she was alert enough, even 10 days before the end, when she was down to 70 lb. (from apx 145?) and could not eat nor drink because the cancer blocked her stomach. We talked about the dreans she was having during her long sleep.

    The last day was a beautiful warm day in NYC. Her husband put her in a wheelchair and took her to the park to enjoy. She died in the wee hours of the morning after, perhaps her Julliard-trained head still hearing the chirping of birds.

    It’s been a sad week, with the funeral and two Shiva visits (as I accompanied my daughters and husband’s visit, too.) I felt that I had said goodbye before, but each time I see a wall of her photographs, sorrow washes over me.

    4 like

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting