Entering Into "Precious Time"

Dr. Bob Lehmberg, husband of Jennifer O’Brien, author of The Hospice Doctor’s Widow, used the term “Precious Time” with his palliative care and hospice patients and families who were dealing with end of life situations.

I LOVE that phrasing “Precious Time”. 

What does it mean? Doctor Bob’s definition was “Precious Time is a type of time, a distinct period of life. Precious Time may indeed start upon the life-limiting diagnosis or it may start as death nears or becomes imminent. It is a gift to recognize that you have entered into Precious Time with a loved one.”

In our medical society today, it seems to be very difficult for physicians to tell patients and/or families that death is approaching; that this special person will die, and probably sooner rather than later; that there is no fixing the medical situation. 

How much more meaningful and helpful would it be for physicians to say to patients/families, “We have come to the end of our ability to cure this disease. We’ve tried our best but it is time to focus on keeping you comfortable. You are entering Precious Time. This is the time to do and say what needs to be done and said. This is the time to live as best you can, to make each moment meaningful to you. I will help you, guide you to resources that will assist you during this precious time.”

Think of the quality of living and life those beautiful words can convey.  It reduces some of the fear we all bring to an ending of a life experience. It changes the focus from “death is coming, we don’t know what that will be like, I’m going to die and there is nothing I can do about it but wait for it to happen.” Instead, the focus becomes, “We will come together. We will make this time special. We will see this as a gift. It will be a Precious Time.” 

I’m not saying there won’t be fear, aloneness, and challenges involved in precious time. I would hope there would be hospice or end of life doula support and continued physician guidance. 

The concept of “Precious Time” helps us put this natural life experience in a more positive perspective. How about teaching Precious Time in medical and nursing schools so our medical professionals will have a more sensitive tool to offer their patients when death will come sooner than anyone wants.

Something more about…  Entering Into “Precious Time”

Families will need support and education when Precious Time has begun.  I encourage you to use BY YOUR SIDE: A Guide for Caring for the Dying At Home as you navigate the end of life waters.  The guidebook addresses end of life choices (life sustaining, comfort care), advance directives, and funeral planning. It details signs of approaching death (what to look for, what to do); describes end of life care at home; pain management; care of dementia patients at end of life; and, very importantly, how to take care of yourself as you fulfill your role as caregiver.   

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Judy Brennan

Barbara, what a beautiful article. At the end, I sang a favorite song to Amy through tears and breathing challenges due to the moment. I told her funny stories. She had stopped talking at that point. What a precious time. Kimberly and I laughed at things Amy had done (like sneaking out of the house as a teenager in the middle of the of the night and how she got away with it). We talked about fun stories. Lynn was awesome. We were blessed to have Lynn with us. Thanks so much.
BK Books replied:
Hi Judy, thank you for sharing those last hours with me. Say hi to Lynn for me. Blessings! Barbara


No one told me my mom was close to dying even though she was in hospice here at home. I actually worked the day she died. Had ANY of those nurses been honest with me, I’d have taken leave from my job and been by her side around the clock. Now I’m filled with regret about not being there, wasn’t mentally ready for her to go that day, and missing her so much I can barely function. I could wish for one more day to get it right, but there’s no rewind button in life. She’s gone and there’s no coming back. My sweet sweet mama. 😪
BK Books replied:
Martha, I’m sorry you didn’t get “precious time” with your mom before she died. You might write her a letter and tell her all that you would have said if you had had the opportunity. Put all the words and tears down on paper, burn the paper and scatter the ashes to the wind. You might also talk with the hospice supervisor and tell him/her what occurred. It won’t fix what happened (didn’t happen) with you but it may prevent someone else from missing the closeness of death. I have a booklet My Friend, I Care that may give you some guidance with your grieving. https://bkbooks.com/collections/booklets/products/my-friend-i-care-the-grief-experience?variant=36961175863452. Blessings! Barbara

Audrey Joyce

I wonder if this information is made available to oncologists and all doctors in a direct way through reading materials but equally important with direct in person talks and information providing times when doctors come up for retraining, review etc. This info is critical for patients and their families, yes, but if doctors, nurses, caregivers etc. do not have this information then the patient’s first line of support is lacking in a kind, nurturing approach to end of life discussions. I think the expression and explanation of “precious time” is wonderful. This expression can be used in so many ways to embellish all life for as long as we have life…a good reminder….it’s all precious.
BK Books replied:
Hi Audrey, you are so right. It would be beneficial for all if medical and nursing schools, actually all healthcare providers had reference to the term “precious time” and how to use it. Blessings! Barbara


I LOVE LOVE LOVE the term Precious Time. I’d love to use that term in the description of my doula practice. I would of course give credit to the original author of the term. In my humble opinion, the way it’s used in the opening paragraph is heartwarming and I feel takes away the hard reality of dying.

Thank you for a great article .
BK Books replied:
Hi Debbie, Dr. Bob Lehmberg is the originator of the term. I just latched on to it (with permission) because we can all identify with the gift ending of life can bring. Blessings to you in the doula work you are doing. Barbara


Love this phrase as well.I wish I would have said these words to my mom when we signed with a hospice company to help ease her fears.Gone from my sight 3yrs now this past January 17th BUT not gone from my heart.Miss her every single day.
BK Books replied:
Hi Sue, it sounds like even if you didn’t have the words “precious time” you created it with your mom. Blessing! Barbara

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