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Facilitating a Meaningful End-of-Life Experience for a Senior

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
December 09, 2011

Question: My elderly uncle lives in a distant state and I have just found out that he is seriously ill and probably dying. How can I help him to die well?


I am so impressed with you because you understand how important this is and you want to make the journey meaningful and comfortable for your uncle.  (I am sending you a big hug for being a great niece.)

The first thing to do is to make sure the doctor refers him to hospice.  Then he will get a team of experts helping him physically, emotionally and spiritually-if appropriate.  The next thing to do is to find out what your uncle thinks is important to accomplish during the time he has left and what he thinks would be a good dying experience.  If he able to communicate, ask him about his fears and concerns as well as his hopes and dreams.  If he doesn’t want to talk about this, ask him if there is someone else that he would feel more comfortable talking to about this topic.  Or if he can no longer communicate, then you will need to make sure he is comfortable and well cared for based on what you know about his values and preferences. 

The dying process doesn’t have to be constantly depressing and sad.  What can you do to make each day more joyful and fun for him while he is still here?  (You can sign up for my Kindness Reminders which will give you a different idea each week for how you can show a loved one how much you care.  Go to my website,, and at the top right corner is a box where you can sign up for the weekly email from me.)

The other thing you will want to do is to make sure that he knows he matters.  At the end of life, people want to know that they will be remembered.  Perhaps you can have someone record his life story on video while he can still communicate.  Or perhaps you can have other family members call, visit or write cards telling him why he is loved.  Dying isn’t just about a pain free, peaceful end, it is about the life we have lived and how we make peace with our life at the end. 

I know this is difficult to do long distance.  Can someone near your uncle set up a skype conversation for you?  Can you fly in to see him to get a good care plan in place?  Is there someone nearby who will be checking on him?  Do what you can and at the same time, realize that you can only do so much from a distance.  At least if you get a good hospice team in place, that will help a lot.

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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