Communication vignettes: ‘Being with’ a patient who is distressed

Helen Scott

  • Abstract

    Communicating with dying people means more than just imparting information. It is about being physically and emotionally present with patients. The following communication vignette deals with the issue of ‘being with’ dying patients, as defined by Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement. Dame Cicely Saunders wrote that practitioners should ‘learn not only how to free patients from pain and distress, how to understand them and never let them down, but also to be silent, how to listen and how just to be there’ (Saunders, 2003). ‘Being with’, as defined by Dame Cicely Saunders, means staying with patients as they approach death, providing them with an opportunity to talk openly about their feelings and fears, while actively listening to what they have to say. Such action can help people face the reality of their forthcoming death (Saunders, 1965; Saunders and Baines, 1983). ‘Being with’ can also entail simply sitting with a dying patient, whether or not he/she is able, or wishes, to communicate (Haraldsdottir, 2007b).

  • Contributors

    Helen Scott


    Correct at article publish date

    Helen Scott is Editor, End of Life Journal, a palliative care nurse, and is currently undertaking an MSc in Palliative Care, Department of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, King’s College London. Email:

    Original publishing information

    • Publisher: St Christopher's Hospice
    • Publish date: 01/01/2012
    • Volume: 2
    • Issue: 2

    Permissions: © 2015, Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to

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