Gifts for Someone Who Is Dying: Meaningful and Comforting Ideas

Am I comfortable with death? I would have to say yes. In this life, I’ve had the honor to join alongside both of my parents as they individually departed this earth. The experience changed me forever.

I learned about death, and the body’s dying process. I was able to journey with them in the months prior and observe their fears, concerns, and hopes. Whereas I used to be uncomfortable helping or expressing concern for others in similar situations, I now feel at ease. No longer did I want to miss out on giving support just because I felt awkward about it.

The notion of giving a terminally ill person or person dying a gift seems almost callous and insensitive. What use would they have for it? You and I, my friend, think bigger than that.

We know that choosing gifts for someone who is dying can be a meaningful gesture. It’s an opportunity to offer comfort, show love, and provide support during a challenging time.

If you are new to this, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve got ideas to meet your loved one’s needs, convey a message, ease discomfort, and show your care and compassion.

It doesn’t all have to be sad, click here for fun things to do with hospice patients.

A terminally ill person in bed, a loved one holds their hands.
There are many ways to support a person who is dying.

Understanding death

When we hear the words, “put on hospice” or “terminally ill” we think that death is happening in a week. This is not so. In the same case, someone who has cancer doesn’t mean they are immediately dying, they could go on to live for years.

Also, it’s common for a “surge” or “rally”. Sometimes a person dying surprises everyone, and continues to hang on past a predicted death date. This can come in the form as seeming more peppy, and wanting to eat. Sometimes, people will not pass if they are seeking some type of closure.

Asian woman in wheelchair enjoying a single flower held in her hand.
A dying person can still enjoy life.

It just goes to show you that we are not in charge, God is (or the greater powers that be).

My suggestion it to educate yourself about what to expect during the dying process (you nght even be reading this while you are sitting with a loved one now). Things like hearing are the last to go. You can go on YouTube and watch videos of what to expect when a person is dying or what is called “actively dying”. There will even be videos that explain certain behavioral things, like why the eyes are open. I wished I had known I had those resources at the time.

Case in point, as my family gathered around my dad who appeared to be unconsious, we reminisced about funny family events. We started talking about how much dad loved fireworks – and he started laughing!

Even when someone appears to be actively dying, you can give the gift of telling them how much you loved them, and any last parting words you want to say.

What does placed on hospice mean?

Being “placed on hospice” typically means that a person with a terminal illness has opted for a shift in their medical care to focus on comfort and quality of life rather than curative treatments.

It indicates a transition to a specialized form of care that provides support for individuals with a prognosis of six months or less to live. Hospice care aims to manage pain and symptoms, offer emotional and spiritual support, and enhance the patient’s overall well-being during the end-of-life phase (source: National Institute on Aging).

You can give the gift of telling them how much you loved them, and any last parting words you want to say.

-GiftGivingSucks.com

Understanding the needs of the dying

When someone is dying, it can be difficult to know how to help them. Understanding their needs can make it easier to provide the right kind of support. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to comfort the dying.

Emotional support

One of the most important things you can do for someone who is dying is to provide emotional support. This can include listening to them when they want to talk, but also respecting their need for silence or solitude.

The gift of your time is so important. I know that some people have to give up their work time. I used all of my vacation time up, and I’m glad I did. I will never get that time back to spend with my mom.

Opening expressing sympathy or forgiveness for past wrong doings (it goes both ways) can be incredibly healing. Use all of your words – they’re free. Tell your mom and dad that they are your hero, how much they meant in your life, or share a memory of them that they were not aware of.

When I was 12, my dad taught me how to run the skidloader on our farm. It meant a lot to me. I think he was very surprised when I shared that with him one day!

It is very, very common to be scared and fear being alone with your loved one. You must stop and realize how scared your friend or family is to die. Supporting them through their last days and months is an incredible experience. Better to be a little uncomfortable now, then regretful the rest of your life. This is a wonderful way to show your love and respect when they pass away. 

Put your fear aside my friend. Tell your work you need time off. This is more important. Imagine what your dad is going through… Dying is a lonely and sometimes scary process and I’m sure he’d be grateful to have you by his side.

Reddit thread

You can also help by offering words of encouragement, such as telling them how much you care for them or recalling happy memories you shared together. Additionally, you can provide emotional support by simply being present with them, holding their hand, or giving them a hug.

You can also just sit and watch TV with them, or play music for them (such as guitar or piano). Write a poem in their honor or write a song for them. Let your friend or ill family member pick out their favorite movie and watch it with them. Better yet, watch old family movies together.

A man on his deathbed, a doctor holds his hand.
A man in an actively dying state.

Helping with closure

If you sense that your loved one is seeking closure, you might be able to assist. They might want to speak with someone before they die. See if you can connect your loved one with a video call. Even if it seems like your loved one is unconscious or in a coma, they can still hear.

If you are the person dying, allow others to care for you. [For family] you need to be there with them and accompany them… the most important thing if you’re trying to help someone is paying attention, listening, showing up, being present, praying, and showing grace to each other. That’s true gold.

Dr. Margaret Cottle, Focus on the Family, YouTube

For my dad, it was important that my mom was taken care of. He called my brother into the hospital room (for what my brother thought would be a deep conversation). Instead, my dad asked him to get a pen and paper and make a list of things that had to be taken care of on their property.

What one person needs for closure can be very different than another’s. There is still opportunity to help. It may be hearing the words that you say you’re sorry. It’s also important to tell your loved ones that everything will be fine here, and that it is OK for them to move to the next world. This permission is sometimes all it takes to pass quietly to the next realm.

Physical comfort

Providing physical comfort is also important for someone who is dying. This can include making sure they are comfortable in their bed or chair, adjusting pillows or blankets, and helping them change positions.

You can also provide physical comfort by helping them with basic needs such as eating, drinking, and using the bathroom. Additionally, you can help by providing massage or other types of physical touch that can be soothing and comforting.

Physical comfort may mean the use of drugs that remove pain, such as morphine. Only a nurse or doctor can assist with that. Ask plenty of questions and do everything you can do to make sure your loved one is not in pain. If it’s the middle of the night, call someone who can address this.

A daughter wraps a blanket around her elderly dying mother to comfort her.
A daughter wraps a blanket around her elderly dying mother to comfort her.

When someone is unconscious, they will constantly need their tongue and mouth moistened. I only know this through the many hospital stays while my dad was in the hospital for pancreatic cancer. There might have been a nurse mentioned it in passing, but I really wished that it was communicated more strongly to the family.

I made it my personal committment to keep my dad’s mouth comfortable and moistened during his last days. Thankfully, I had the smarts to bring that same comfort to my mother in her last days, as well. This video about dry mouth pallative care will help you to feel more confident.

Remember that every person is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to listen to the person who is dying and respond to their needs as best you can. By providing emotional and physical support, you can help make the dying process more comfortable and peaceful for everyone involved.

Gift ideas for comfort and peace

When selecting a gift for someone who is in the final stage of life, it’s important to choose items that provide comfort and peace. Personalized items can offer a sense of connection and warmth during this difficult time.

From personalized keepsakes to soothing items that promote relaxation, the right gift can bring moments of joy and comfort during a difficult time.

Closeup of two people embracing hands across a table.
Show your support through gifts of kind words, comfort, and care.

Consider gifting a personalized photo album or memory book filled with cherished moments and heartfelt messages. A custom-made blanket or pillow with a meaningful quote or family photos can provide physical comfort and emotional solace. These personalized items serve as a reminder of love and support, offering a source of comfort during challenging times.

Comforting items such as soft blankets, soothing candles, and calming essential oils can help create a tranquil environment for the individual. A cozy shawl or robe, along with a selection of their favorite teas or snacks, can offer moments of relaxation and ease. Additionally, a soothing sound machine or guided meditation recordings can contribute to a peaceful atmosphere, promoting a sense of calm and comfort.

For example, you could consider a weighted blanket to help with anxiety and restlessness, a cozy robe or pajamas for comfort, or a soft hat or scarf to keep them warm. You could also consider a gift basket with items such as lotion, lip balm, and other items that can help with skin and mouth dryness caused by treatments.

Mother embracing her daughter, who has cancer.
Cancer is a common reason a loved one may face death.

Books and reading material

Reading can be a great way to escape and find comfort during a difficult time. Consider gifting your loved one with a book or two that they may enjoy. For example, a novel that they have been wanting to read, a biography of someone they admire, or a self-help book that can provide inspiration and comfort. You could also consider gifting a subscription to a magazine or audiobook service to provide ongoing entertainment and distraction.

Remember, the most important thing is to show your love and support. Whether it’s through a gift, a kind word, or simply spending time together, your presence and care can make a world of difference to someone facing terminal cancer.

Communicating through words

When someone is dying, words can be a powerful tool to provide comfort and support. Here are some ways you can communicate through words:

Writing a meaningful card

A card can be a simple yet meaningful way to show your love and support. When writing a card for someone in hospice or with terminal cancer, keep in mind that they may be feeling overwhelmed and emotional. Keep your message simple and heartfelt. You could share a favorite memory, express your gratitude for their presence in your life, or simply let them know that you are thinking of them.

If you’re not sure what to write, consider using a pre-written card as a starting point. Look for cards that are specifically designed for someone who is terminally ill or dying. You can also find examples of what to write in a card to someone who is dying here.

When my dad was dying, there was a person from his past who decided to write long letters to him. It was an incredible gift for her to give. Her and my dad’s generation were never comfortable with the Internet. This kind woman took the time to write about everything and anything. She obviously cared very much about him, and this was her way to give a gift to someone who was dying.

A man thinking about the right words to write in a card to a friend who is terminally ill.
A man thinking of what to write in a card for someone on hospice,

Verbal expressions of comfort

If you’re able to visit someone who is dying, verbal expressions of comfort can be a powerful way to provide support. It’s okay to acknowledge that the situation is difficult and that you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, simply being present and listening can be enough.

Encouraging words for someone who is dying can include phrases like “I love you,” “I’m here for you,” and “You are not alone.” It’s also okay to express your own emotions and to share how much the person means to you.

When speaking to someone who is dying of cancer, it’s important to be sensitive to their individual situation. Avoid making assumptions or offering unsolicited advice. Instead, focus on offering your love and support in whatever way feels most appropriate.

Remember that there is no one “right” way to communicate with someone who is dying. The most important thing is to show up and be present in whatever way feels most authentic to you.

We’re all going to mess this up to some degree…If you want to know something, just ask me – it “bleeds” over to the good things. Other people may not be comfortable – read the signs… if they’re uncomfortable, say, “I’m sorry! I wasn’t trying to pry, I care and I don’t always understand what is going on.” That can go a really long way.

 Sara Diemer, Cancer Chats, YouTube

Practical assistance and support

When someone is dying, their physical abilities may be limited, and they may not have the energy to complete daily tasks. As a result, practical assistance and support can be a great help to them and their family. Here are some ways to provide practical support:

Help with daily tasks

Tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping can be challenging for someone who is dying or their loved ones. Offering to help with these tasks can provide much-needed relief. You can also consider hiring a professional caregiver to assist with daily tasks.

End-of-life planning

End-of-life planning is an essential part of preparing for death. It involves making decisions about medical treatment, funeral arrangements, and estate planning. If someone is dying, they may need help with end-of-life planning. You can offer to help them make these decisions or connect them with a professional who can assist with the process.

When helping someone who is dying of cancer, it’s important to be aware of their specific needs. Cancer patients may require more assistance with daily tasks as their condition worsens. You can offer to help with cooking, cleaning, and running errands, or even provide transportation to appointments.

Family meeting to discuss end of life planning.
Helping your loved one with end of life planning is a selfless gift to give.

If you’re trying to help a friend who is dying of cancer, offer to be there for them in any way you can. Listen to them, offer emotional support, and help with practical tasks. It’s also important to respect their wishes and decisions regarding their end-of-life care.

When someone’s spouse is dying, they may need additional support with daily tasks and emotional support. Offer to help with practical tasks such as cooking and cleaning, and be there to listen and offer emotional support. It’s also important to respect their privacy and allow them to grieve in their own way.

Creating lasting memories

When it comes to providing comfort and support for someone who is dying, creating lasting memories is a thoughtful way to show your love and care. Memory books and keepsakes can serve as a beautiful tribute to their life and the impact they’ve had on others. These can be filled with photographs, heartfelt messages, and mementos that capture cherished moments.

African American grandpa and grandson sharing a smile and laugh.
Sharing memories with a terminally ill family member can sooth, relax, and bring comfort in the last days of life.

Memory Books and Keepsakes

Memory books can be a meaningful gift, allowing the individual to reflect on their life and the special moments they’ve shared with loved ones. You can include personal stories, favorite quotes, and pictures that evoke positive memories.

Additionally, keepsakes such as personalized jewelry or engraved items can serve as a tangible reminder of the love and support they’ve received.

When my dad with terminally ill, he asked about reading our family genealogy book. He was never interested in it in his earlier life, but sought it out now. Now is the time to also capture those important family memories that your loved one can remember.

Grandpo looking at old picture with grandson.
Persons who are dying often like to talk about the past and favorite memories.

This may seem odd, depending on how you interpret it, but you can take a clipping of your loved one’s hair. This was a very accepted tradition in Victorian times. Through Victorian mourning jewelry, momentos were crafted to retain a more tangible remembrance of the deceased. Besides jewelry, hair art and hair wreaths were another way to preserve more beautifully Read more about hair wreath history fromt the Lancaster Museum of Art.

Yes, I do find the Victorian traditions surrounding death unsettling. However, I find that there is nothing creepy about keeping a locket of your child’s baby hair. Clipping a locket of hair is not a gift for the person dying, but a gift for the person living.

Another thing is to make a shadow box together with them. If your Grandpa went to baseball games with you, you can include photos, ticket stubs, etc. Your loved one might really enjoy having this distraction.

Recordings

Take this time to make some recordings of your loved one talking, about anything. I recall an older cousin telling me that he was starting to forget the sound of his dad’s voice.

It’s funny, but true. In my mind, and can imagine the tone of my parents’ voices, but not an exact conversation. Pairing up their tone with a conversation makes it so very real.

Experiences and Quality Time

Spending quality time with a terminally ill individual can be just as valuable as a physical gift. Consider organizing experiences that create lasting memories, such as a special outing to a favorite place, arranging a visit from a beloved friend or family member, or simply spending quality time engaging in meaningful conversations. These experiences can provide comfort and cherished moments for both the individual and their loved ones.

Making favorite family recipes is another way to bond with your loved one. Even though they can’t enjoy the food, or only take a bite, it may bring back incredible memories for them. It’s the comfort of familiar foods and happier times that they reminisce in, and a closeness with family.

If you get some wild idea for an experience, run it by your loved one first. Tell him you want to do something special and want to be sure it’s something he really wants. They might love it, or decline it. It’s important to be sensitive to respect the time that they have left.

An older couple spending quality time together as the man faces death.
Spend as much quality time you can with your loved with in the time they have.

By focusing on creating lasting memories, you can provide comfort and support during a challenging time, offering both the individual and their loved ones a sense of peace and connection.

This section covers relevant entities such as “gifts to give when someone dies,” “gift for terminally ill person,” and “Christmas gifts for someone who has lost a loved one.”

Guidance for friends and family

Watching someone you love go through the end of their life can be a difficult and emotional experience. Knowing how to offer comfort and support can be overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that your presence and support can make a significant difference. Here are some tips on how to offer comfort and what to say and do for someone who is dying.

How to offer comfort

Providing comfort to a dying friend or family member can be challenging, but there are many ways to show your support. Here are some ideas:

  • Listen: Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just listen. Let your loved one talk about their feelings, fears, and concerns. Be present and attentive, and avoid interrupting or trying to fix their problems.
  • Be there: Your presence can be incredibly comforting, even if you’re not sure what to say or do. Offer to sit with your loved one, hold their hand, or simply be in the room with them.
  • Offer practical help: If your loved one is at home, offer to help with household tasks or errands. You can also offer to bring meals or help with personal care.
  • Provide emotional support: Let your loved one know that you are there for them and that you care. Offer words of encouragement, and remind them of happy memories and good times you’ve shared.

I have a “magic question” that I ask – ‘What’s the worst part of this for you?’ The response can be not what you expected. Sometimes you can make a big difference and bring peace into their lives by asking those questions [and taking action on them in response].

Dr. Margaret Cottle, Focus on the Family, YouTube

What to say and do

Knowing what to say and do can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that your loved one needs your support and understanding. Here are some tips:

  • Be honest: It’s okay to acknowledge that the situation is difficult and emotional. Let your loved one know that you are there for them, and that you will support them through this difficult time.
  • Offer comfort: Use comforting words and gestures, such as holding hands or giving a hug. Offer words of encouragement and remind your loved one that they are loved and valued.
  • Avoid clichés: Phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “you’re in a better place now” can be hurtful and dismissive. Instead, focus on acknowledging your loved one’s feelings and offering support.
  • Write a letter: If you’re not sure what to say, consider writing a letter to your loved one. You can express your feelings and offer words of comfort and support.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to offer comfort and support. The most important thing is to be there for your loved one and let them know that you care.

Dealing with regrets

One common theme with supporting our loved ones end of life: we’re going to make mistakes. One thing for me, it was hard to adjust to a different adult relationship with my mom and dad.

If you have never gotten past talking about the weather, or asking mom or day about their bridge club, etc. transitioning to these adult conversations will be hard.

Don’t be hard on yourself. After your loved one passes away, you will continue to process the event for years. You may be filled with regret, struggling with what you could have, or should have done or said.

GiftGivingSucks.com

The death of my parents was my first exposure to dying. I learned so much through the hospice nurses, especially about how the human body shuts down.

Stressed woman sharing her concerns about her terminally ill family with a friend.
Supportive family and friends can have their own struggles, regrets, and concerns for their family facing terminal illness. Make the most of the time you have with them!

I was 41 when my father died, and 49 when my mother past away. Adult children have to be mature to deal with death. I wasn’t at 41, but I became more comfortable with it by the time mom passed.

What I regret is not talking with my dad, and asking him about his life. We really didn’t have much of a relationship (I’m guessing a good deal of parent interactions are that way). It was always awkward with him. If I leave you with anything, embrace the awkwardness and start those conversations. God gave me months of time with him, I could have used that time better.

Take any regrets you have now, and make life better moving forward.

What are ‘dignity therapy questions’?

Dr. Margaret Cottle from Focus on the Family, explains that dignity therapy questions are part of the bigger concept of ‘Dignity Conserving Care’. She shares that Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov has had a huge impact on her life, and she considers him her mentor.

Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov is a leading authority on the emotional dimensions of end-of-life, and on supportive and palliative care. as having a hu “Dignity-Conserving Care—A New Model for Palliative Care, Helping the Patient Feel Valued.”

Dignity Conserving Care refers to an approach in palliative care that focuses on preserving and promoting the dignity of patients, particularly those facing serious illness or the end of life. This model emphasizes practices and interventions aimed at addressing the psychosocial, existential, and emotional distress experienced by patients, with the goal of helping them feel valued and respected throughout their care journey.

Dignity Conserving Care may involve various strategies such as maintaining routines, living in the moment, providing personalized psychotherapy, and incorporating kindness and respect into the care process (sources: PubMedCareSearch).

Part of Dignity Conserving Care is asking questions like these:

  • When did you feel most alive?
  • What were some of your favorite roles that you played in your life?
  • What are some things that you want your family to remember?
  • What do you want to say to your family; what are your wishes for them?

Considerations for hospice care

When someone you love is in hospice care, it can be challenging to know how to support them during this difficult time. One way to show your love and support is by giving them a thoughtful gift. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing an appropriate hospice gift.

Woman on hospice care, terminally ill.

Your heart just hurts. What can we do? That hopelessness is very hard.

A Lesson in Dying: A Nurse With Cancer Offers Herself as Instruction in Caring

Appropriate hospice gifts

When choosing a gift for someone in hospice care, it’s important to keep in mind that their needs may be different from those of someone who is not in hospice care. Consider items that can provide comfort and support during this time. Here are some ideas:

A man holding his father who is terminally ill.
Dying is the time to express love through words and touch.
  • Comfort items such as soft blankets, pillows, and slippers can help make the person feel more relaxed and at ease.
  • Aromatherapy products such as essential oils, candles, and diffusers can help create a calming atmosphere and provide a sense of peace.
  • Memory books or photo albums can be a meaningful way to help the person reflect on their life and the people they love.
  • Books, music, or movies that the person enjoys can provide a distraction and help them feel more at ease.

When choosing a gift, keep in mind the person’s individual preferences and needs. It’s important to choose something that will bring them comfort and joy during this difficult time.

Fun ideas for hospice patients

Dying is somber business. Leave it to Willie Nelson to thumb his nose to the Internet news proclaiming he died, in his song “Still Not Dead!“.

Having a sense of humor in the death process helps the dying and the living. You don’t need to be a comedian to have fun. Providing light-hearted activities for those dying is a positive way to add joy to the last days and months that a loved one has on earth.

  1. Help them finish their bucket list.
  2. Ask them point blank what they want, and make it happen!
  3. Have family members and friens write their most favorite memories of them on pieces of paper and put them in a jar for them to read.
  4. Ask them how they would want to be remembered in the next year, and try to fulfill their special wish.
  5. Watch a comedy show together.
  6. Get something signed by a favorite author, sports player, or musician.
  7. Arrange for a pet therapy session with friendly and gentle animals to provide comfort and companionship.
  8. Organize a movie marathon featuring the patient’s favorite films or classic movies from their era.
  9. Coordinate a virtual reality experience to “travel” to a destination the patient has always wanted to visit.
  10. Host a small concert or musical performance with live music tailored to the patient’s preferences.
  11. Plan a themed party or celebration to commemorate special occasions or meaningful milestones in the patient’s life.
  12. Offer a pampering session with gentle massages, aromatherapy, and soothing treatments to promote relaxation.
  13. Arrange for a visit from a therapy clown or entertainer to bring laughter and joy to the patient’s day.
  14. Create a memory book or scrapbook with the patient, filled with photos, stories, and mementos of their life and loved ones.
  15. Coordinate a visit from a local artist or art therapist to engage the patient in creative expression through painting, drawing, or other art forms.
  16. Organize a visit from a professional chef to prepare and share a special meal tailored to the patient’s favorite dishes and flavors.

Supporting hospice staff

In addition to supporting the person in hospice care, it’s also important to consider the hospice staff who are caring for them. Hospice staff work tirelessly to provide compassionate care and support to patients and their families. Here are some ways you can show your appreciation for their hard work:

  • A thoughtful note or card expressing your gratitude for all they do can go a long way in showing your appreciation.
  • Gift cards to local restaurants or coffee shops can provide a much-needed break and show your support.
  • Donations to the hospice organization or a local charity in the hospice staff’s honor can be a meaningful way to show your appreciation and support their work.

Remember, when choosing a gift for someone in hospice care, it’s important to keep their individual needs and preferences in mind. Additionally, showing your appreciation for the hospice staff can be a meaningful way to support the person in hospice care and the important work that hospice organizations do.

Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee pulls no punches when it comes to challenging the social norms of gift giving. Her mission: putting an end to meaningless gifts and cutting through the fluff. This midwest mom offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!