Prayers for the Dying: Words of Comfort for Hospice Patients

August 12, 2022, Chaplains, Hospice

Prayers for the Dying: Words of Comfort for Hospice Patients

Chaplains are an essential part of hospice care and can bring immense comfort to the dying and their families. These experienced professionals offer compassionate listening and spiritual insight during the most difficult of times. While not all of a chaplain’s interactions involve religion, families often request prayers for their loved ones who are at the end of life.

The Sacredness of Life and Death

Prayers offer words of comfort and help people find meaning in life and death. In some cases, the chaplain will offer a reflection on life at the bedside of a person who has just died or is actively dying.

“Prayers offer comfort because they get at the sacredness of life and death,” explains Gilchrist chaplain Don Hohne. “We are all blessed children of the universe, born with goodness. We want to believe and trust the sense that there is a sacredness to life, and that somehow we’ll be OK.”

Chaplains are skilled at listening and reading cues to understand the spirituality of a person or family. As a result, they can tailor prayers to the unique needs of each individual and choose words with sensitivity.

Some prayers are extemporaneous, or conversational. They can also be meditative and reflective. A chaplain can either read the prayer to the patient or give a written copy so the person can read and reflect on their own.

Some chaplains prefer to use prayers they have written themselves. Others use a prayer book, with modifications depending on the personal circumstances and whether or not the family is fervently religious.

It is common for chaplains to lead patients through a life review process, asking about meaningful moments and people in their lives. Life review helps honor the person who is dying and help them find meaning.

“As a chaplain, our work is about legacy, meaning, love—sometimes forgiveness—and moments that were important in a person’s life,” says Don.

Traditions of Faith

Chaplains are non-denominational and offer support to people of all faiths. However, the language of prayers can be tailored to a person’s religious or cultural preference.  

 “The Jewish tradition calls for a vidui, a final confessional prayer that comes in slightly different formats depending on the movement, rabbinic guide, and so on,” explains Gilchrist Rabbi Gordy Fuller. “It includes the Shema prayer, ‘the watchword of our faith,’ as well as some prayers of forgiveness.” 

Of course, a hospice chaplain does not take the place of a person’s personal priest, rabbi or imam. They are simply another layer of spiritual support whose role is to provide comfort in whatever way a patient wishes.

Selected Prayers for the Dying

Below are a few prayers shared by Gilchrist chaplains that may offer comfort to a dying loved one and family members.

Adapted from “Who Dies” by Stephen Levine

My [friend], listen now. Let go gently,
gently, of all that holds you back. Of all that
pulls you away from this most precious
moment. Know that now you have arrived
at an important transition. Open to it. Let
go into it.
Recognize the changing experience of the
mind as it separates from the body,
Dissolving now into the realms of pure
light. Your true nature shining everywhere
before you.
Enter into the brilliance of the light.
Approach it with reverence and
compassion. Draw it into yourself and
become what you have always been. Let
things be as they are without the least
attempt to interfere. Pushing away
nothing. Grasping at nothing.
This is the light that shines from the open
heart of Jesus. This essential mind is
inseparable luminosity and emptiness in
the form of a great light. Holding to
nothing, let go into this vastness. Dissolve
into the light of your true being.
Know that you are well guided by your
compassion and love. You are the essence
of all things. You are the light.

“Come Sit by Me” by Dr. Robert Wicks

When I am tired God says, “Come sit by me.”
I speak about the little things that have happened to me during the day and I am heard.
I share my fears, angers, doubts and sorrows, and I am held.
I smile with what energy I have left and I am gently teased.
Then when all the conversation is over and the day has been opened up
and emptied out, I am ready for rest.
Nothing is solved. Nothing is under control, but also nothing pressing remains.
But as I go to sleep a fleeting thought breaks the smooth surface of my peace.
What would I do each night, if God didn’t say: Come sit by me?

“Prayer of Abandonment” by Charles de Foucauld

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you; I’m ready for all; I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
To surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence.
For you are my Father.

“Extemporaneous Prayer for Christians” by Anne Owens, Gilchrist chaplain

Light of life, Creator of all things.
You have created us to die. Help us to trust in your design. Help us to not be afraid and lean on You for comfort and peace. We are entering an unknown and we are anxious. Please calm our spirit and give us peace that passes all understanding. Help us to journey with you into eternal life, no more pain, no more weeping, only Light and Love.  Amen.

Prayer of Commendation

Oh, Lord, receive the spirit of [N], your child.
Free him/her from the pain and struggle of this life.
Give [N]’s family and friends faith and strength to release him/her to your loving care.
May your angels welcome him/her into the life that has no end.  Amen

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