This paper presents the findings from a work sampling study. At 10-minute intervals the activities of patients in a hospice, and in an oncological unit were monitored for a day or a night. In total, 5286 observations of patient activities were recorded. The findings showed that being a patient, especially in the oncological unit, was apparently a very lonely experience with limited social interaction and purposeful activity. Hospice patients, in contrast, were less alone, spending much of their time with their relatives. Although none of the patients at either site spent a major part of either day or night with nurses, hospice patients and nurses spent significantly more time together, and their encounters more often lasted longer. Nursing care at both sites was mainly related to 'doing' rather than 'being', i.e. when with patients, nurses most often had some task to accomplish. The study shows the importance of increasing our understanding of the use of time and the combination of doing and being that reflects good nursing care of the dying.