Learning how to create a sacred space for the terminally ill and preparing that space is a beautiful gift you can give a loved one. The personal space of someone who is dying should be considered sacred. It is where they will transition and take their last breath from this world.
This is the space where they will share their life story, memories will be replayed, life will be celebrated, and important discussions will be had. This is where final goodbyes will be said. We honor it with calm, peace, and respect.
Following is how I prepare my terminal client’s room. This preparation aids in their and their visitor’s comfort and allows for a beautiful transition.
A Space for Love, Compassion, and Dignity
Firstly we want to consider the space itself. I recommend a quiet room; their bedroom or a guest room. In most situations where there is a hospital bed, furniture will need to be moved to make space for the bed. I have seen clients use dining rooms or even living rooms for this purpose because it allows more space and is easier to set up. Please avoid a crowded and cluttered space if possible. We want it to be organized and with enough room where visitors and healthcare professionals can move about.
If an open room is chosen, be mindful of privacy. Therefore, if the room faces a front door, for instance, I recommend a privacy screen or position the bed in such a way that allows for privacy. I also place a note on the outside of the front door either rerouting guests to another entrance (side or back) or stating that this is a quiet space to please enter the room quietly.
Useful Items Which Promote Comfort and Ease
Depending on your loved one’s current condition, there may be a bedside commode. This is used for safety reasons; If they are weak and have difficulty getting to the restroom but are still mobile and want to use a commode, this is a great solution.
Liners are available for bedside commodes to make cleaning easier. Hospice often provides the commode and other hygiene supplies.
Hospice companies will also order an oxygen concentrator. This delivers oxygen via a tube and cannula and plugs into an outlet. Even if your loved one isn’t having difficulty breathing, having a concentrator nearby is a good idea as their condition changes. Should they require oxygen for lack of oxygen or comfort measures, you’re already prepared. You can keep it out of the way for the time being, but when considering the space, be mindful of this piece of equipment as well.
If your loved one is on hospice, a hospital bed is recommended but not required. If they refuse a hospital bed, that’s fine. Don’t pressure them, but learn why they don’t want one. In some cases, they have spent too much time in a hospital bed and are tired of it. They want the comfort of their own bed, to feel normal again. And that’s perfectly fine. Honor their wishes.
Hospital beds are available with air mattresses that distribute pressure and aid in better comfort. When there is prolonged pressure, usually along the bony areas of the body (ankles, heels, elbows, tailbone), bedsores can develop if the person is not frequently repositioned. Bedsores are painful and can be prevented. If your loved one is in a regular bed, extra pillows and repositioning are recommended at least every two hours.
If your loved one is bed bound and not able to get out of bed by themselves or with assistance, they will require changing of adult briefs and bed baths in the bed. A hospital bed adjusts and makes this process easier and much more comfortable.
Often our loved ones will start on hospice service not wanting the hospital bed, but after a while, they will see that one would be more comfortable and allow it.
How We Nurture the Five Senses at End-of-Life
Now that you’ve selected a space, decided on a bed, and rearranged furniture if necessary, we’ll address our loved one’s 5 senses. With all of these items, we want to include their preferences if they are able to communicate with us. If they are unable, you’ll want to think of the things that are meaningful to them. Asking family and friends is also a great idea. They may remember something you didn’t.
These are some suggested items to include in their sacred space. They will bring back beautiful memories and aid in meaningful discussions:
- Photos of the things and people they love
- Consider placing the bed near a window so your loved one can gaze out and feel the sun on their face and hear the sounds of nature
- Books or photo albums. Even if they aren’t able to read or see, visitors can be their sight and read to them
- Art. This includes religious or spiritual art
- A television with volume on low. No one likes a loud, chaotic space, so be mindful of that energy and adjust the volume as necessary, especially if visitors are present
Their favorite music – you can find a music tv station or have a radio nearby. Some of my families have used a phone or tablet with Pandora set to a station of their loved one’s favorite genre.
- Calming sounds like the sound of the ocean, especially if your loved one spent time at the beach. Sounds of nature or white noise can also be calming
- Sound therapy has been used to balance sound waves and frequencies in the external environment with the internal waves and frequencies of the human body. Soothing sounds promote harmony and peace in an atmosphere often full of distress and pain
- A favorite blanket or quilt made by a loved one
- Comfortable clothing that’s easy to change. (In some cases where they are bed bound and immobile, I’ve seen families take an article of clothing and cut it along the back, making it easier to dress. They then tuck the garment gently.
- Physical touch is often overlooked in the treatment of a serious medical problem, but it often has profound effects on wellbeing. Massage therapy provides a type of healing, relief, and relaxation to which medical treatments cannot compare.
- Access to favorite beverages and snacks. If your loved one is still eating, always have a cup of water and their favorite beverage nearby, assuming they can tolerate it. I recommend a cup with a lid and a straw.
- Small meals of their favorite foods. As we decline, our bodies require less and less nutrition. If your loved one doesn’t want to eat or drink, don’t force it. Ask if they’d like something, but if they don’t, that’s ok. Forcing food and hydration actually causes discomfort and can also cause aspiration (accidentally inhaling food or liquid through into the airway)
Scent can bring back beautiful memories and provide holistic relief
- Favorite fresh flowers
- Favorite perfume or cologne sprayed on a pillow
- Essential oils (not overpowering, a little goes a long way). Here are a few essential oils and how they may help:
- Peppermint: calming, aides in relieving nausea
- Lavender: calming, encourages sleep
- Lemon: uplifts mood, relieves stress
- Marjoram: anti-inflammatory, relieves joint pain
Welcoming Visitors into the Sacred Space
You also want to be mindful of visitors. Have a chair or small couch near the bed where your loved one can visit. I also recommend keeping visits to 15-30 minutes depending on your loved one’s condition, especially as they become weaker. It’s simply too taxing on them. I’ve had clients who would say “no visitors today,” and that’s ok. Hopefully, guests will understand.
Medications can be confusing as there may be several on different schedules. Hospice will bring a medication log sheet where you can log the medication. It’s good practice to keep all medications and medication logs nearby. The hospice nurse will educate the family on each medication and when to administer it. They also take care of re-ordering the medications. Please keep these out of reach of small children.
Organization Promotes Ease and Calm
Setting a beautiful sacred space also includes a well-organized room. Keeping supplies and extra linens nearby avoids extra work for the family caretakers. Keep supplies in a closet or drawer, utilize baskets or cupboards and label for ease. Try keeping everything together. Hospice provides many supplies, including adult briefs. They usually bring several packages which are bulky, these can take up a lot of room. Keep extra packages tucked away and one handy. Try keeping out of sight from visitors and being mindful of your loved one’s dignity.
Keep a small waste basket nearby for tissues and other items. Soiled adult briefs should be disposed of in the outdoor trash to avoid odor.
If hospice has provided a bed and oxygen concentrator, they often bring along a bedside table with wheels that can be adjusted. Use this table for the things your loved one would reach for the most, like tissues, glasses, remote control, beverages, etc. Keep the table within their reach when you aren’t in the room.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful in creating a peaceful, sacred space for your loved one. These are just a few suggestions that can make a huge impact. If you’d like to learn more about how to support your terminal loved one, reach out to me via my contact form, and let’s schedule a complimentary consultation.