Hospice Messages: What to Write to Someone Who is Dying
The end of a person’s life is an important time for friends and family members to reach out with words of caring, support, and gratitude. Unfortunately, our culture isn’t particularly comfortable with death and dying. Most of us feel stifled and awkward when we think about what to say to someone in hospice care who has days or months to live.
Confession time: I’m a longtime Hallmark writer, and I still felt stumped when asked about writing this kind of message. Luckily, I work with thoughtful people who have direct experience as caregivers and family members of someone in hospice, and they were gracious enough to share what they’ve learned.
The first is Tracy Riley, who is both a Hallmark administrative pro and an experienced hospice nurse. If that sounds like two careers, well, it is—but Tracy is passionate about both Hallmark’s mission of helping people connect emotionally and hospice’s call to care for individuals and families facing the end of life. The second is Marn Jensen, a retired Hallmark writer and editor who has seen both of her parents through hospice care in recent years. Marn also continues to stay connected to hospice through participants in her 2018 Wishes for the World project.
I’ve organized these writing tips and approaches by theme, but you certainly don’t have to stick to just one theme in what you write or say to someone who is dying. Whether you’re writing a note, spending time with them, or both, I hope you’ll find ideas for messages that offer comfort, bring a smile and, most of all, let someone know how much their life has meant to you.
“Thank you” is one key message that writer and editor Marn Jensen tried to express often to her mother and father during their time in hospice. Gratitude for the person’s life, their caring, and their influence really does make for a warm and affirming message. And that’s true for anyone from an immediate family member to a friend to more distant connections.
- “Thank you for all the days you’ve made brighter just by being you. There have been more of them than I can count.”
- “Thinking of the good life you’ve lived, the great times we’ve shared, and feeling so grateful for you.”
- “You’ve been such an important part of my life, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.”
- “I so admire the warm, funny, genuine person you are. My life will forever be better because you’ve been part of it.”
- “I wish we could have more time together, but I want you to know I cherish the times we have had and the time we still have.”
- “Thanks for being the one and only you and for being a blessing to so many people—especially me.”
- “I’ve been beyond lucky to know you. Thank you.”
- “You’ve been the best dad. Thank you.”
Example Messages for a Close Friend with Terminal Cancer
Learning that your close friend has terminal cancer is heartbreaking. You don’t want to see your friend struggle with illness, and you don’t want to lose someone so special to you. One of the best ways you can cope with this grief, and help your friend cope with theirs, is to reach out with a sincere written note.
- I can’t stop thinking about you and all you must be going through. Let me know if you need anything at all.
- Thank you for being the kind of friend I strive to be. Your support and strength have meant the world to me.
- You’re the strongest person I know, and the best friend I’ve ever had. I know you need space right now, but I’m here if you need to talk.
- You’re always in my thoughts, and I’m so grateful to have had you in my life.
- You know that all of us are your biggest fans, and you’re never alone.
- You’re my hero. You’ll always be one of the smartest, funniest, kindest human beings I’ve ever known.
- I hope you know that you’re deeply loved, and I’m so proud of you. I won’t be offended if you can’t talk, but I’ll come running if you call.
- You’ve always been there when I needed you, and now I’ll be there for you. Please know you can lean on me if you need to.
- You’re still the same amazing person I know and love. If there’s anything I can do to make life even a little easier, don’t hesitate to call me.
- You won’t believe what happened today… (Talk about your life. Sometimes, a person with terminal cancer just wants to return to normalcy for a little while.)
Share your end-of-life wishes, just in case.
Example Messages for a Close Family Member with Terminal Cancer
Sending a card to a family member with terminal cancer can be even more difficult. A family member could be one of your best friends, or they could be someone you haven’t seen in years.
- Our family wants to say that you’re in our thoughts, and we’re sending you love. We hope you’re finding as much comfort as possible.
- I wanted to reach out and let you know how much you mean to me. I hope you won’t feel pressured to reach out, but know that you can call me anytime.
- You’re on my mind and in my heart. I’ve often thought of you when I needed to find strength in times of hardship.
- I was just thinking about how much I admire and look up to you, and I wanted to reach out to let you know.
- I just saw the most beautiful sunrise, and it reminded me of you. I wanted to send some loving thoughts your way today.
- The moments we’ve spent together have been some of my most precious memories. Thank you for being in my life!
- I’ll always remember the time we spent together… (describe a memory that will bring a smile to the person’s face.)
- You’ve made such an amazing impact on my life. I wanted to thank you for being an incredible person.
- You’ve been on my mind every day, and I wanted to send you some comforting thoughts.
- You’re such a beautiful person and an inspiration to everyone in our family. Your strength has made an impact on me that will last forever.
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7 further points
2.Don’t assume that what you think someone who is dying might want to hear, is what they really want to see. Be guided by the advice of others closer to them, by all means, but don’t forget to use your common sense, too.
3.If the person wants to avoid reality-based sympathy, respect that – don’t pat their hand indulgently or smile patronizingly at them either actually or metaphorically, no matter how much you feel they’re kidding themselves.
4.If the person is in fully-fledged denial about his or her terminal condition, write whatever messages you may have for them along those lines. Much as we may feel that for someone to deny that they’re dying is inappropriate, it’s not our shout. Respect how they want to handle it, even if it means discussing events in the future that you know they won’t be around for.
5.Be very wary of writing sentimental stuff to them, even if they are posting sentimental pieces online. Many terminal patients find it comforting to put out sentimental messages, but find incoming sentimental messages hard to deal with.
6.Respect the people closest to the patient and avoid writing anything unkind about them, no matter what your private feelings may be. This is not the time to raise doubts about them, or settle old scores.
7.If he or she enjoys a laugh, then make them laugh. For nearly everyone, humor is a great tonic. Choose your humor carefully, but let it flow; laughter is a therapeutic way to connect anyone to the rest of the world, whatever their age or medical condition.