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What Really Matters Most at the End of Life

Most people would rather not think about death and dying. But near the end, it’s important to acknowledge that death is approaching, and to focus on what really matters at the end of life to the person who is dying. This will help both the person and their loved ones to experience greater comfort and fulfillment. Also, without such an approach, people are often left with feelings of regret or guilt, and may have greater difficulty coping with their grief.

A person-centered approach

Our healthcare system is designed to treat illness and prolong life. But near the end of life, people generally benefit most from care that addresses their mind, body, and spirit. That can mean spending one’s final days at home rather than in a hospital. It can include having a beloved pet by one’s side. It may mean seeing loved ones, doing a favorite activity, or visiting a special place.

We all need to figure out what really matters to us at the end of life. We may also need to find creative ways to help a loved one achieve these desires.

Research shows that people who are close to death prioritize the following needs, according to Dr. B.J. Miller, who gave a renowned TED Talk on what really matters at the end of life:

  • Comfort
  • Feeling unburdened
  • A sense of peace
  • Feeling wonderment and spirituality

Comfort, for example, can come in many forms, including physical, emotional, and spiritual. Physical comfort can be achieved through proper pain relief and help with personal care. It can come from a gentle touch, therapeutic massage, or the softness of a special blanket. Emotional comfort can result from sharing thoughts and feelings, receiving support for worries and concerns, and planning for the future. Spiritual comfort can involve visits from clergy, reading meaningful writings, spending time in nature, or focusing on spiritual objects.

To feel unburdened by worries, regrets, or guilt, people can share their concerns with a trusted loved one, a hospice social worker or spiritual support counselor, or other professional counselor. Simply talking things through and expressing feelings can bring relief. A counselor may suggest certain actions that can help people unburden themselves.

A sense of peace can also be achieved in many ways, depending on the individual. For example, peace can come from reflecting on one’s life, and both appreciating the good and forgiving the mistakes. A social worker, spiritual counselor, or other trusted person can share in these conversations and offer support. Another way for people to find peace is by ensuring their affairs are in order and their loved ones will be taken care of after their death. Some people may want to write letters to their loved ones to share any final messages and leave a legacy of their love.

A sense of wonderment and spirituality can come from small moments. Sitting in a beautiful garden, hearing a bird singing, smelling cookies baking in the oven, or listening to special music are just a few of the kinds of experiences that can matter at the end of life.

Are you struggling with grief, either before or after the death of a loved one?
Samaritan can help. Visit us at
Grief Counseling Services in South NJ.


Avoiding regrets

Hospice workers often encounter patients and families who have regrets at the end of life. By focusing on what really matters, people can lessen such feelings and improve their remaining time. Here are some activities that help people avoid regrets:

  • Spend time with people you love. Looking back at their lives, many people wish they had spent more time with loved ones. Take advantage of the time that’s left to be together.
  • Express your feelings. Many people repress how they feel in order to avoid conflict. That prevents them from being honest with – and closer to – their loved ones. Honesty can ultimately elevate a relationship to a closer, healthier level. It can also push away an unhealthy relationship – which is also beneficial. A hospice social worker or other mental-health professional can help you navigate potentially difficult conversations.
  • Reconnect with people. Those near death may long to see people they’ve lost touch with. Arrange a visit, phone call, or video chat. If an old friend or relative can’t be reached or has passed away, try to contact a mutual friend or a family member to share memories.
  • Do things you enjoy. Whether it’s watching a favorite show, listening to preferred music, eating a delicious treat, or making someone laugh, focus on activities that bring you pleasure.

What hospice can do

Our overall healthcare system does not generally address what matters most to people who are dying.

Fortunately, though, hospice focuses on these priorities. Hospice addresses each person’s full range of needs – physical, emotional, social, and spiritual – when one’s expected lifespan is six months or less.

Hospice care is provided where the person lives, whether at home, in a nursing home or assisted living, or in an inpatient hospice center. Such settings allow the flexibility to focus on what really matters at the end of life to the patient and their family. These environments are more peaceful and comforting than the typical hospital setting. And patients can have greater access to pets, as well as preferred sights, sounds, scents, and flavors.

In fact, enjoyment of one’s senses can be essential to happiness at the end of life – enabling people to experience comfort, pleasure, and beauty, even in the face of death.

Hospice is not just about reducing pain, but about making a person’s final months and weeks as good as possible. That means focusing on what really matters at the end of life to them.

Moreover, the hospice team can help patients and families identify their priorities. Hospice physicians, nurses, social workers, and spiritual support counselors work together to support each person’s individual needs and preferences for what really matters at the end of life.

To learn more about hospice care in South Jersey,
call Samaritan 24/7 at (800) 229-8183
.