Caring for Someone at the End of Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by P.J. Southam & Martha Leatherman   

Practical things that you can do

Fotolia 5931389 XSPresbyterians Pro-Life believes that all innocent human life should be protected from conception until natural death. Since Roe v. Wade approximately 55 million pre-born children have been killed in the United States alone. One of the consequences of this is changing attitude and acceptance of assisted suicide for those at the end of life. In Europe there is even active euthanasia of those at the end of life. I can remember in the 1970s my grandfather telling me that making abortion legal in America would start us on the road to euthanasia. His foresight was accurate. Genocide may be coming next. Collin Brewer, a councilor (city council member) of Wadebridge East in North Cornwall, England, said that "Disabled children place too great a burden on the country's nationalized health care and other services and ought to be 'put down' to save money." [1]

Many of those who advocate for assisted suicide at the end of life do so for various reasons, primarily because they want to be in control of their own demise, rather than letting God be in control of it. Other reasons include loneliness and fear of pain. Christians can reach out in love to those suffering terminal illnesses. If we be with them this will help alleviate loneliness and assist them with managing pain. It may also give us an opportunity to witness to the God who holds our lives in his hand, and share our belief that God is real, and we aren't him. When the hospice care movement started over fifty years ago, it was started by Christians. End of life care is an opportunity for Christian mercy and caring.

Not everyone is a trained hospice caregiver. But there are things we can do for family members, loved ones, and friends. Here are some ways to care:

When visiting someone in the hospital:

  1. The hours in the hospital can be long. A visit is usually appreciated. Call the hospital first to make sure that the patient is allowed visitors.
  2. Keep the conversation light. It is usually not a good idea to bring up bad news or concerns. However, if the patient brings these up, do not change the subject. Let the patient speak about their concerns.
  3. Try to watch asking questions like "How are you feeling?" or "How are you doing?" If they were doing well they wouldn't be in the hospital. It is not necessary to talk about their condition unless they bring it up.
  4. If you get upon a topic that seems painful or difficult, it is always a good idea to ask permission: "Is this something we can talk about right now?" or "Would you rather not talk about this?"
  5. Take your cues from the patient. If the patient appears tired or drowsy, take your leave. A good rule of thumb is that twenty to forty minutes is a good amount of time for a visit.
  6. Reassure the person that you are lifting them up to God in your prayers. Ask them if they would like you to pray with or for them while you are with them.

When visiting someone in their own home:

  1. Call ahead and talk to their caregiver to find out when is a good time to visit. Often elderly folks are more alert before noon than after noon.
  2. Don't be afraid to touch your friend or loved one, if it is not painful for them and if they don't object. Go ahead and ask permission: "May I hold your hand?" or "May I give you a hug?"
  3. Ask their caregiver if they would like a respite while you are there. They may need some time for their own needs or recuperation.
  4. Ask if there is anyone they would like to have come and visit. If so, try to bring that person by if possible. If the person they would like to see is a child, such as a grandchild or nephew or niece, prepare the child ahead of time by explaining to them what to expect.
  5. Ask their caregiver what you can help with, such things as putting moist cloths on their forehead, or providing sips of water or swabs of the mouth, etc. Serving someone in these ways can be a very powerful connection.
  6. A hand massage--even with pain, a very light gentle hand massage with fragrant lotion is a wonderful way to interact with people who might not be able to communicate verbally. Of course, watch for signs of discomfort and stop if you see them.
  7. Brushing someone's hair is another thing people can do.
  8. Ask if they would like the Bible or other favorite material read to them. Ask if they have a favorite hymn and sing it for or with them. Pray for or with the person. Include the Lord's Prayer, and/or the Apostles Creed.

Be prepared for your own emotions. Losing a loved one does hurt, and you will grieve. Allow yourself to. Being with someone at the end of their life does require bravery, because we want to protect ourselves from hurt, especially emotional hurt. Remember though that we have the hope of the resurrection to eternal life, and so we do not grieve as others do. We grieve with hope, and look forward to being reunited with those who have gone before us to the glory of the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ.


[1] Life Site News,

photo © Melodic Metal Man -

The Rev. P.J. Southam is pastor of Big Creek Presbyterian Church in Hannibal, MO and a member of the Board of Directors of Presbyterians Pro-Life.

Dr. Martha Leatherman, M.D. specializes in Geriatic Psychiatry and serves on the Medical Advisory Board of Presbyterians Pro-Life.



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