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8 Things to Say When Your Patient Dies

What to say to the family when your patient dies What to say to the family when your patient dies

Your patient has been breathing irregularly for some time now and just drew another gasping, agonal breath. Holding your own breath, you wait…and wait.. for the next breath. But it never comes. It hits you that your patient just died.

You’ve never had a patient die before, much less witnessed the moment of passing. You are shell-shocked. But soon the family will be here and you need to compose yourself and be professional. Whatever that means.


The Charge Nurse has already indicated she wants the body sent to the funeral home and the room cleaned ASAP because there’s another patient in the ED who needs the bed.

What to say to the family when your patient dies

What to say to the family when your patient dies

You want to spend time with the husband and daughter who are just now getting off the elevator. But you also have a hard IV stick on another patient who needs a blood transfusion, and your post-op knee patient needs her pain med.


You aren’t prepared for the loss of a patient and all the accompanying emotions. How could you be ?  It’s not a test you’ve ever studied  for.

Often nurses are the first persons a family member turns to at point of loss. It’s a privilege and an honor to bear witness at the time of death, but it can cause feelings of inadequacy.

You Can’t Fix It

You can’t fix this by changing a dressing, or providing patient education. In fact, you can’t fix this. At all.

You cannot take their pain away, no matter what you say or do.

It’s awkward and your feelings are jangled because the husband and daughter are tearing up and you are all standing around the corpse and you, too,  are shell shocked but you haven’t finished your med pass. Feeling inadequate, you proffer a box of kleenex. Thankfully, they accept your offer and take a Kleenex.

Manage Your Feelings

If you are an empathetic person, you are feeling the loss along with the family. People who are empathetic make great nurses, but feel more acutely. You must control your emotions and remain composed, but genuine and responsive.

Does that mean you can’t shed a tear? Shedding a tear is fine, but not out and out crying, because then the focus is on you and your feelings.

Besides, you don’t have time to fully experience your feelings. If  you start crying, can you stop? What if you start crying but you’re an ugly crier and  your eyes sting the rest of the day and your nose is red ?

Concentrate on your breathing, bite your lip, distract yourself. Take a deep breath.

What to say when your patient dies

Comforting the family

What You Can Say

A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” when said in a heartfelt manner, is meaningful.

Ask what they need. “Is there anyone I can call for you?”  “Would you like some chairs and time alone for a few minutes ?

Acknowledge their feelings. “I know how much you loved her” (if you know this to be true).

I can’t imagine what this must be like for you”  Because you can’t.

If you are comfortable, ask if you can give them a hug. “Can I give you a hug?” A human touch can be immensely comforting.

From Emotional to Cognitive

After a certain amount of time, you may need to move the family away from the bedside and from the emotional realm to the cognitive realm.

How do you move some one along when they are in crisis and emotional? You don’t.

You re-focus them from the emotional to the cognitive. You do this by asking a question. Ask about their loved one.

She always talked about her herb garden

She was a teacher, right? Did she teach here in town ?

This type of question will instantly switch their brain to the cognitive side as they answer you. They are now in the realm of dates and facts. From this place, you can move things forward that must take place, and bring closure to the hospital situation.

Self-Care: Debrief and Process

Realize you have to process that your patient died at some point.

It’s traumatic to watch another human being die. It is not sufficient to say “I just have to pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep going”.

Emotions will come out one way or another. You might burst out crying at a Lifetime movie, or over react in some other situation.  Processing means talking out loud to a supportive person. Hearing your own words out loud. Saying them. You owe it to yourself to debrief as soon as you are able.

NurseEyeroll Kati Kleber talks about this beautifully in her article “I wish I could cry with you, but I can’t”.

You can compartmentalize your feelings as a coping mechanism, but be careful. Putting the experience aside doesn’t mean it’s been dealt with.

Practical tip- when you get home after your shift, take a shower. Stripping off your scrubs and letting water run over you symbolically cleanses and refreshes.

note: If you have unresolved grief issues of your own, get help so you can better help others without your needs taking precedence.

8 Things to Say to the Family When Your Patient Dies

8 Things to Say to the Family When Your Patient Dies


What has helped you when your patient died? What ways have you found to respond to families? I’d love to hear.

Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth


You may also want to read:

Nursing’s Dirty Little Secret

Sample New Grad Resume

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

How to Land an Interview

You can also come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂


About Beth Hawkes (133 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.
  • Daniel Marius

    ہیلو، آپ کو اپنے قرض کو مضبوط بنانے کے لئے مالی اعانت کی ضرورت ہے؟ آپ کو آپ کی کمپنی کے ٹریک پر واپس حاصل کرنے میں مدد کرنے کے لئے فنڈز کی فراہمی کی ضرورت ہے؟ لہذا میں آپ کے لئے بہترین حل ہے. اپنے نئے کاروبار سب سے زیادہ startups کے مانند ہے، تو آپ کو زمین سے دور حاصل کرنے کے لئے $ 5،000 اور 5،000،000.00 $ ملین کے درمیان کہیں قرض طلب کرتے ہیں. آپ کی ذاتی بچت اور رشتہ داروں اور دوستوں سے قرضے ختم کے بعد، آپ کو سب سے پہلے سنتیں ایک بینک قرض یا ایک SBA قرض حاصل کرنے کے لئے ہو سکتا ہے. آپ کو اس جبلت پر عمل کرنے سے پہلے، مجھے اس قرض کی فرم میں ایک ہی دن سے ایک قرض حاصل کی بارے میں بتا دو. سٹیون RANDAL قرض کمپنی میں اس فرم کے بعد $ 1،950.00 کی دھوکے گیا سے $ 350،000.00 کے ایک کاروباری قرض حاصل کی، ہونا صحیح جگہ ہے. لیکن آج میں نے ایک کاروبار کے مالک ہوں اور آپ کو اس کے قرض کی مدد کے لئے تلاش کر رہا ہے جب ہو جائے کرنے کے لئے صحیح جگہ ہے کیونکہ آج کے قرض کی کسی بھی قسم کو اس فرم سے رابطہ کرنے میں ناکام نہیں ہے کی ضرورت ہے تو میرا کاروبار، تیزی سے بڑھتی ہوئی ہے، ان کے سود کی شرح بہت کم ہے ( 2٪) ای میل ذریعے آپ کے قرض کے لئے آج اس فرم سے رابطہ کریں اور آپ کو کیا خوشی ہو جائے گا. ای میل کریں | شکریہ..

  • Pingback: 5 Short Nursing Stories from Nurse Beth -


    اگر آپ کو قرض کی ضرورت ہے؟


    میرا نام مسٹر فریڈ ہے. میں نے ایک نجی قرض خواہ نجی اور کارپوریٹ افراد کے لئے قرض دینے والے ہوں. آپ کی طرف سے رد کر دیا گیا ہے
    لہذا بہت سے بینکوں؟ آپ کو آپ کے قائم کرنے کے فنانس کی ضرورت ہے
    کاروبار؟ آپ کو آپ کے توسیع کے لئے فنانس کی ضرورت ہے
    کاروبار؟ یا آپ کو ایک ذاتی قرض کی ضرورت ہے؟ میرا قرض
    حدود. ذاتی سے کاروبار کے قرض کے لئے. میری دلچسپی
    شرح بہت سستی ہے. 3٪، اور کم از 50،000.00 € € 500،000،000،000.00 € کی ایک زیادہ سے زیادہ، ہمارے قرض کے عمل بہت تیز ہے
    اس کے ساتھ ساتھ. میں نے آپ کے تمام مالی بنانے کے لئے بہت تیار ہوں
    ماضی کی بات پریشان. آپ کے لئے بہت تیار ہیں
    آپ کے مالی مسائل حل ہو جاتے، تب کوئی تلاش
    مزید اور ذریعے ایک قرض آج ای میل کے لئے:
    ( مجھے ایسا کرنے میں آگے نظر
    آپ کے ساتھ کاروبار.

    مسٹر فریڈ لیری
    سی ای او.

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