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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Deathbed etiquette

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Whenever Anna Chaplains are asked what additional training they would appreciate, support when offering end-of-life care is almost always mentioned. It is natural to feel apprehensive when asked to be with someone who is dying.

It is a privilege to accompany someone at this stage of their life. Finding the right words and knowing how to behave in a way which will most help that individual, and their relatives or friends who may be visiting them is an art. Hence the name of the charity The Art of Dying Well, which provides essential, straightforward guidance.

Their website page entitled ‘Deathbed etiquette’ gives simple advice in a short series of bullet points. It also provides specific guidance on Catholic, Islamic and Jewish rituals of death. The top four general tips, for example, are:

  • Be attentive to what your loved one wants – you are there to support them.

  • If something concerns you about your loved one, seek out help or advice.

  • Sitting at the bedside can be exhausting so try to eat, drink and take regular breaks.

  • Aim to create some personal space around the bed, particularly if your loved one is in hospital.

It is part of the compassionate role of any minister, or visitor, to be aware of the importance of different faiths’ specific rituals. For instance, Catholic advice is to call a priest in good time, when a patient is ailing. The Catholic Church has three sacraments for people who are dying; Anointing of the Sick, Viaticum and the Sacrament of Penance, each of which is plainly explained in the article.

In the Muslim community, dying at home with members of the family around keeping vigil is seen as the ideal. The advice is to invite the imam and, wherever possible, ensure the dying person’s bed is facing Mecca.

Jewish beliefs about death and dying emphasise the importance of staying with the person, helping them to settle their affairs, making peace with any adversaries and supporting them in making a deathbed confession.

The Art of Dying Well which is based at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, says their aim is ‘to offer hope and companionship at the end of life’.

Providing tools to help those who are bereaved is also an important part of their work, as is promoting research into improving the lives of older people and what enables us all to live well. There are sections devoted to what constitutes dying well; how to talk about death; facing death personally; bereavement; and care for the dying.

You might also be interested in several resources BRF provides in this area, notably:

You can find a whole range of resources relevant to ministry among older people and support for carers under the resources tab of our website.




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