The first thing people do when they come across a sick person is say, “ I don’t know what to say.” Then they never stop talking.” 

Being in the presence of a sick person makes a lot of people uneasy. It’s hard work both emotionally and physically. We long to help and make connection. And yet it seems we often are doing or saying the wrong thing. We feel stupid, or awkward. The person isn’t happy with what we’re offering. Or the way we’re offering it. We then get resentful or hurt that the plans we had to connect were not appreciated.

Human beings need to help. This need is overwhelming. And yet when dealing with a sick or dying person it demands a consciousness of communication on a level most people don’t understand.

Yet here you are. Taking a Hospice course.  You have chosen to learn. And these techniques below are to help you to do this thing called care-giving in a more skillful way. 

Be Gentle. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to be frustrated. But the main thing is you have shown up. And that is amazing.

STAYING flexible means saying YES AND to new ideas.  And making the person we are communicating with look good.

We do this through our communication style.

Communication is a series of Offers:


Verbally, the first offer we make is our name.  It’s important we address people by their name, not as “Dear” or “Doll” or “Hon”.  And secondly important to say it the way people offered it.  If they said, “Hi my name is Cathy” don’t change it to Catherine.

Also, realize if we make a mistake or forget the name, don’t fake it.  Simply ask for it again.

Most people today listen long enough to interrupt.

People listen long enough to put their two cents worth in.  Like Listening is a competitive sport.  Rather than one where we exchange ideas back and forth.

So we have to get in sync with our clients and friendships.

Tune in and sit at the same level.  Looking at them, not staring at them, not stalking them, but making eye contact.

Also, taking into account their comfort level.  Some people culturally will react different according to their age, sex, and their cultural upbringing.

Slow down you move too fast

If you can remember to stop multi-tasking and tune in even for a few seconds, it will make people feel listened to and cared for.

A lot of questions can seem overwhelming

Paraphrasing what they are saying is better than barraging them with a lot of questions.  Starting sentences with “you could” and “you should” and “you know what I would” do assumes authority on subjects many of us have no business giving advice on.  A lot of people just want to talk and if we paraphrase a couple of ideas back to them or empathize it gives them room to either just vent or work the problem out themselves.

Two Reasons to Give Advice:

  1. 1.     Did they ask for advice?
  2. 2.     Did they ask you for it?

Push the Pause Button

  • If you’re a chatting person,  one idea might be to count to three before you respond


  • We say we don’t know what to say, and then we babble on for the next ten minutes.

Uh Huh

Ummm, Ummm

I see

When people are saying they totally disagree with you, you might want to             say: “You might be right”

Don’t be afraid to use humour to laugh when a person makes a joke.  It relieves stress, it allows the person to feel his or her own humanity.  If we can see the ridiculousness of the situation we can often diffuse the situation enough to get another perspective.

Remember things that seem urgent are RARELY IMPORTANT, and things that are really IMPORTANT are rarely urgent. Slowing it down by taking a walk, going for a tea can give you some better ideas on how to solve problems.

Admit that you cannot fix things:

Someone telling you, “Look I feel terrible and you’re not helping a bit” can trigger an emotional response making us feel we are not doing enough, or not doing it in the right way. But sometimes all you can do is agree with them. Make space for their pain. Their feelings.

Being in the presence of a dying person, brings up inadequacy: And all the old unresolved grief comes up and without knowing it we get an agenda for the sick person. Or their significant others.

What feeling do you find most unacceptable to have expressed in front of you?

We all have one emotion we don’t like.  I am good for instance with angry people but on the other hand I find self-pity hard to handle. Especially on an ongoing basis.  Some people who don’t say what is bothering them, makes me go crazy. Why – because I am unable to fix things.

Again that feeling of powerlessness comes up. And I start to exert power over something that I have no power over.

Knowing what feelings upset you most can help you build tolerance. For you and them. This is your issue. So you need to take a break. Get out and regroup. A lot of the time emotional outbursts ,whatever the flavour, have absolutely nothing to do with you. And if there is something that needs to be changed or discussed, taking a break can help you get some perspective.


Working on an Energy Level

There is one more kind of communication that is going on, which is our energy.

Some people’s energy invigorates us.

Some peoples’ energy is draining.  Sometimes, we can be very tired, very sad but we still feel somehow we’re ok because there is a feeling as bad as everything is, we’re all doing our best. And yet there are other people that no matter what you do you feel you can’t get it right.

These people can be quite draining. Toxic energy suckers I call them.

Again we need to protect our energy and really know how to be okay with taking self-care time.


Energy Lifts:

  1. Ask for help from three people a day-okay a week. Ask for help!!
  2. Ask for help for YOU!
  3. Communicate with people outside the situation who have a little perspective. Someone looking from outside the problem will offer a better view of things.
  4. Call a Halt. I am Hungry. Angry, Lonely Tired. (or you can make up your own Halt. Like I am hormonal?) Just go to sleep. Getting into bed even if you’re sad, or worried still is good. Being at a hospital or hospice is exhausting. Intense, and you need time to debrief and relax.

Reach Up to Better Ideas:

Often, when we’re stresses we stop doing the things that are good for us, like exercise, listening to music, fishing, hunting, tinkering, knitting.

So  try to do something that take your mind off of things.

Recharge with a good talk, music and reading or listening to tapes that celebrate the good in life. You may feel guilty by enjoying something while someone is suffering but you are trying to stay well so you can help.

What we feed our minds it will spit back at us. Stop Googling and terrorizing yourself with what could happen and get back into the moment. If you want to be on the Internet go to sites that have relaxation tapes and movies on them: like downloads on many sites online.


And lastly gentle it. Gentle everything. Do less of everything. Don’t just do something, stand there. Try to take any unnecessary activities off the table. Going gentle, and letting yourself feel your feelings, is key. You will get through this.


Be well, Deborah Kimmett.

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