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What You Can Do When Someone You Love Is Dying

Originally developed by Hospice of Northern Virginia.

When someone you love is dying…

The words dying and terminally-ill strike terror in the hearts of many—not because they fear death, because most people actually say they don't have a fear of death. What dying people DO fear is living in pain and becoming a burden to their loved ones.

No matter what you may have heard, pain management IS possible, and it does NOT mean being "drugged up" and "out of touch." You can help your loved one be pain-free and alert, and this brochure will tell you how.

Many people die hooked up to machines in hospitals, isolated from the people who care about them most because they fear that living at home (where they really want to be) would mean burdening loved ones and not getting medical care. But that's not true. This brochure will show you how to get the help you need to care for a loved one who is dying.

The cost of these services is covered by most insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. No one is turned away, even if they do not have insurance and are financially unable to pay.

The service is called Hospice, a comprehensive set of services designed to assist a dying person with his or her medical, physical, spiritual and emotional needs.

If someone you love is dying, this brochure is for you.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hospice

Where is the Hospice?

    Hospice is not actually a place. Hospice is a type of care that helps people who are dying. It is usually provided in the patient's own home, although it also can be provided in a hospital, nursing home or other setting.

How can Hospice help?

    Hospice provides what most people say they want at the end of life: the option to remain in their own home but still get medical attention, pain control, spiritual and emotional support, and help for the family members who are taking care of them.

Who is Hospice for?

    It is for those whose illness or condition is not curable, and who have about six months or less to live. It is also for the family and loved ones of the person who is dying.

Who pays for Hospice services?

    Most insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, pay for Hospice services. If a person does not have insurance and does not have the financial ability to pay, Hospice services usually still can be provided.

Why does Hospice exist?

    Because most people say they want to live their final months of life in the comfort of their own home, free of unnecessary pain, with their loved ones. But they want someone to coordinate doctor appointments, visiting nurses, spiritual support, insurance payments, home-care needs, etc. Hospice provides all of those services.

    Hospice believes that no one should die alone in a hospital, if they prefer to live out their lives at home with their loved ones nearby. No one should be in pain, when it is possible to have pain controlled. No family should be at a loss when it comes to knowing how to care for a loved one in their final months. No one should be without support and comfort when they are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Does Hospice take control?

    No, just the opposite. Hospice keeps patients aware of their options and keeps them in full control of decision-making regarding their end-of-life care. Hospice's role is to help patients get their individual needs met.

Why is Hospice care usually provided in the home?

    Because nine out of every 10 adults say they would prefer to live out their lives peacefully at home, rather than in a hospital or nursing home. Hospice usually can make that possible, while making sure the patient doesn't become an unbearable burden on the caregivers.

How long can we get Hospice care?

    Services to the patient generally are available for six months prior to when death is expected. But, since no one can accurately predict the date of death, most insurance companies provide flexibility.

Who qualifies for Hospice care services in Washington, DC?

    Anyone who lives in the District of Columbia qualifies, regardless of whether or not they have insurance coverage, whether or not they meet legal residency requirements and regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or economic status.

How important is it that I call on Hospice?

    When a person's condition is determined to be terminal, he or she is not the only one who will go through a period of stress, uncertainty, doubt, worry and confusion. Everyone close to that person will also go through their own form of stress. Hospice can help both the patient and their loved ones through this difficult time.

What kinds of services does Hospice provide?

    A Hospice team typically includes the following:

    Nurses to visit the patient's home to manage medications, provide injections, monitor the patient's physical health, answer medical questions and teach family members how to care for the one who is dying.

    Certified Nursing Assistants or Home Health Aides to bathe the patient, wash their hair, freshen their linens, tidy-up their rooms, etc.

    Social Workers to help patients with their often-changing emotional, medical, financial or spiritual concerns. They also can assist with completing Advance Directives, answering insurance questions, arranging support for caregivers, etc.

    Spiritual support provided by the patient's own pastor or rabbi or, if they prefer, interfaith clergy provided by Hospice.

    Trained Volunteers to keep the patient company, to read to them, to shop for necessities and to give the primary caregivers a break.

    Bereavement Counselors to help family members for more than a year after the loved one's death, through support groups, individual counseling and written tips on getting through the grieving process.

What others have said…

"When the doctors said my wife wouldn't live another six months, I thought I didn't need help from 'any outsiders.' But now I say that Hospice saved my life. Hospice showed me how to make the final months of her life the best months of our lives, and they taught me how to go on living without my wife of 50 years."


"The burden of caring for my dying father had totally exhausted our family. We were worn down and had no idea if he would die tomorrow or live another six months. Then a lady from our church suggested Hospice. That was an answer to our prayers. Hospice helped make our final months together some of our best and, to this day, Mom calls Hospice workers angels."


"Grandma died in a hospital hooked up to machines and tubes. It pained us to see that happen, but we knew we could never take care of her by ourselves at home. She died alone because we had never heard of Hospice."


"I recommend Hospice to my terminally ill patients because I know they will work with me to make their final months comfortable and fulfilling."

Dr. M

When Americans were asked what they'd want most if they had less than six months to live, here's what they said:

  1. Someone to be sure my wishes are fulfilled.
  2. Choice among the types of services I could receive.
  3. Pain control tailored to my wishes.
  4. Emotional support for me and my family.
  5. An opportunity to put my life in order.
  6. Spiritual support for me and for my family.
  7. Hospice care provided no matter where I am living.
  8. A team of professionals like physicians, nurses and counselors to care for me.
  9. The ability to be cared for and to die in my own home or a family member's home.
  10. Continuity with the same caregivers, no matter where I am staying.

Hospice can make all 10 wishes come true.

Hospice and Palliative Care of Metropolitan Washington

Hospice of Northern Virginia

Hospice Care of DC

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