Communicating with the Patient
My husband is nearing the end. How can I calm his fears about dying?

It may help to start by asking your husband what his fears are. It’s important to understand them and talk about them. Some fears are about what will happen physically. These fears may be eased if he understands what’s ahead, and what the health care team can do for him in his final days. Other fears may be more spiritual or emotional, as he struggles with the unknown and how to respond to the changes that are happening.

It may valuable for both of you to meet with someone from a hospice or palliative care program, or to meet with his physician or another health care provider. You can learn what services are available, and it may help your husband talk about his fears and get answers to questions. Sometimes meeting with a member of the health care team such as a social worker or spiritual care provider can help in talking about existential fears and concerns.

People who are dying can be afraid of pain or other symptoms. Let your husband know that the health care team can address the symptoms, and will do all it can to control them. He may be afraid of specific symptoms. If that’s so, you need to work with the health care team to develop a plan to address them. If certain symptoms are expected, the plan can include things such as having medications available for possible emergencies. If your husband knows his symptoms will be addressed, this may help ease some of his fears.

People who are dying may have other fears. It’s important to talk about them, to understand what they are and what a patient needs to know. Ask your husband how much information he wants about what commonly happens to people who are dying. He may want to know everything, or nothing, or only what’s important to him. Knowing this helps you know how best to help him.

Suggested Reading

Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life
by Ira Byock, M.D.

Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People facing Serious Illness
by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold

Rituals for Patients and Families