How to Comfort the Terminally Ill: A Patient's Perspective

Updated on September 27, 2018
shauna1934 profile image

When I was in and out of the ICU with a brain tumor, I was very aware that some of my family and friends weren't sure how to comfort me.

Visiting Someone Who Is Terminally Ill Can Be Intimidating

I know this from personal experience. I had a brain tumor and spent over half a year in and out of the ICU.

I was always very aware that although my friends and family wanted to visit, many of them weren't sure how to comfort me. At the hospital (or at home if doing hospice care) the person you are visiting is often connected to lots of wires, monitors, alarms, and medications—and there might even be a lot of other healthcare workers coming in and out to run tests and perform other tasks. It can make visiting awkward and uncomfortable.

Some people even have a phobia of hospitals. After my first cranial surgery, I had a tube coming out of my head to drain my excess cerebrospinal fluid. Every few hours the nurse would have to come in, remove the full bag of cerebrospinal fluid, and replace it with an empty one. For a while, knowing there was a tube coming out of my head that was connected to a bag on a hanger bothered me. I was afraid I'd turn the wrong way and rip the tube out, or something. But I eventually got used to it. I'm not sure all my visitors did, though. There were several family members that were very hesitant to visit because "medical stuff" bothered them.

You're not visiting the illness.

You're going to visit the same person you've always known.

What to Write in a Card for the Terminally Ill

Card Sentiments for the Terminally Ill

Here are some good sentiments to use in cards for the terminally ill.

"Thinking of you."

"God bless you and keep you in his care."

"You mean so much to me."

"Warmest thoughts."

"Hope you are feeling better today."

"You are in my prayers."

"May your day be filled with tranquil moments."

"Sending positive thoughts your way."

"You are surrounded by caring thoughts and heartfelt prayers."

"Hoping you find joy today."

"Love and comfort."

"Just a simple wish that this day will bring you happiness."

"May today be a blessing."

"Hoping you find blessings in everything."

"Remember that you are a blessing."

"Warm wishes and hugs."

"Wishing you peace."

"May His love and compassion bring you peace."

Greeting Cards for the Terminally Ill

Get Freakin' Well

My favorite greeting card was a hand drawn comic of an old guy in a wife beater shirt that me and a friend had been "updating" and resending to each other for several years. Sometimes it was a "Happy Frreakin' Birthday" card and other times a "Merry Freakin' Christmas" card... But when my friend put a head bandage with a care bear on the old geezer's head and hand wrote "Get Freakin' Well" he absolutely topped the cake. It wasn't that my friend knew what I was going through, or how to empower me to undergo another surgery... Just that he had taken the time to make me laugh at myself (and yes, I did happen to have a huge bandage on my head at the time).

Bake something for the nursing staff!

A great way to give a gift to a patient is to bring baked good for the nursing staff. It gives them a reason to check in a few extra times and chit-chat which can bring up anyone's spirits.

Audiobooks for Terminally Ill

Audiobooks make excellent gifts for the terminally ill. Whether due to medication, or other physical limitations, a patient may not have the ability or stamina to read. An audio book gives them the chance to listen and relax.

Show up with your favorite book.

Spend an hour reading your favorite book. Great gift for someone that just needs comfort.

Bringing a Gift

Just because you don't know exactly what to say doesn't mean you shouldn't say (or send) anything at all.

A simple gift with a sense of humor or personal touch goes a long way. Or find out if the person you know has any limitations in their daily life that they may not be used to. Because of the incisions in my head, I went several months without being able to wash my hair, and a friend of mine went out of her way to find out if I could use "waterless shampoo." Her thoughtfulness is always remembered.

Check the hospital gift shop!

They are always filled with an eclectic mix of seasonal and get-well gifts that may just do the trick.

Not Awake?

My aunt bought a blank journal and left it in my hospital room while unconcious. My visitors, and the nursing staff all took time to write in it. It's a wonderful keepsake now.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

What gifts have you given to the terminally ill?

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    • profile image


      6 weeks ago

      My teachers dad is very ill

    • profile image

      Alice Tatro 

      2 years ago

      I have a dear friend who has a very serious cancer. I always message her everyday and am at a loss now the the diagnosis is pretty bad. I need help to find the right, uplifting things to text her.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have been writing about my journey of caring for my mother in the last 1 1/2 years of her battle with an inoperable brain tumor. She had 2 previous ones before that 3rd that were operable and she was able to raise me from the age of 5 until her final tumor took her life when I was 28. I was searching for other stories about this subject/to relate to... and I found your lens. What a beautiful post. And I LOVED seeing the picture of you with your little one at the top of the lens. It is so interesting how some people don't know WHAT to do and so they just don't do anything at all. I am touched by the things you wrote and hope you are doing well. Thank you for sharing!

    • athomemomblog profile image

      Genesis Davies 

      7 years ago from Guatemala

      What an awesome lens! It's true that it can be very difficult to visit someone who is terminally ill for those who have never been through it. Great tips.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've always had problems with this. I am very appreciative of you taking the time to share your experience.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great suggestions from you! When I was going through chemo, the teaching staff was sending me cards...not get well for every occasion (bar mitzvahs, batmitzvahs, confirmation, first communion, congrats on your new arrival, happy halloween, etc)...I never knew what I was going to open up and they always made me laugh! I had a wall with a wood cutout that simply said "hope" and all the cards hung underneath it!

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 

      8 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      Love this lens, and would really enjoying hearing even ore of your story. Beautiful. I've come back to it. My friend jo just passed, and she invited people to come visit her when she entered hospice. So many were intimidated and unsure- this is such a wonderful resource. Thank you for your courage!!

    • debnet profile image


      8 years ago from England

      Thank you for taking the time to write this. I too am a brain tumour survivor and can't agree with your words more. the cards I received certainly helped me through as did staying positive and joking at every opportunity. Stay well and healthy. Blessed by a Squid Angel ;)

    • shauna1934 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: ah - it was the most fun ever. hospitals are a little like your trip to sedona - nurses, doctors, surgeons, and even housekeepers all conscious angels waiting hand on foot on those they serve... ;) i'm convinced before the next life/heaven/whatever you might call it there's a transitional "hospital" where they fix you right up.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      9 years ago

      You are a true gift - I am loving reading your story - what courage, strength, beauty .. I'm a little in awe. Glad you made it through and you're here to talk about it.


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