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what to say to someone who is dying

What to Say to Someone Who is Dying

We acknowledge the discomfort that our society attaches to death. In particular, when it hits close to home and we learn that a cherished family member or friend has a terminal illness, we may instinctively distance ourselves. This may be because we don’t know what to say to someone who is dying.

As a result, we can miss out on crucial times spent with them. It may be challenging to converse with someone we know is nearing the end of their life. It can be confusing and undeniably painful. We’re suddenly faced with our powerlessness in grappling with mortality, our own finite existence and the dread of approaching loss and suffering.

Regardless of these overpowering emotions, it’s important to step up and provide comfort, and try to stay close to your loved one. 

It’s Not About You 

While your pain is valid and important, communicating with someone who is dying is about putting their feelings first. Before you express your emotions and desires, listen to what they have to say. Allow them to guide the conversation. Their inclination might be to avoid deep discussions, or they may have a lot to share. Regardless of your conversational preferences, let them steer. 

What you can provide is comfort in whichever form makes sense for them. That might entail recalling old times together, or simply watching their favorite TV show. 

I Am Here to Support You in any Way That I Can

The time spent with your loved one now is a time that you will likely treasure and remember. Don’t stress about finding the “right” things to say. You’re not expected to have all the answers. In fact, it makes sense that you don’t. Instead of resorting to cliched comforts, spend your time expressing your love for them.

You might even offer forgiveness for past mistakes and ask for theirs in return. Remember, pity is the last thing a person at this stage needs; bestow them the dignity they deserve, even during these testing times.

It’s believed that patients in such circumstances gain closure from hearing critical messages such as, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you” or “Please forgive me.”

Regardless of your relationship with them, you shouldn’t feel compelled to impart advice or suggestions. 

What to Say to Someone Who is Dying: Finding the Right Words Brings Comfort

Your honesty, care, and openness are the greatest gifts you can offer your loved one in their time of greatest need. Many people have faced the heart-wrenching task of bidding farewell to a dear one grappling with their mortality. It’s distressing under most circumstances. Finding the right words that will bring some comfort can be equally daunting.

Engaging appropriately and sensitively in these discussions doesn’t come easily to many of us. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, but it’s an important step for the terminally ill and you. Regardless of how much time you’ve got – be it hours, days, or months – seize the chance to tell them what you would want them to know. 

Procrastination can lead to deep regret when it comes to important conversations. Reflect on what needs to be said and share some amiable anecdotes or significant episodes in your relationship. 

Your dear ones need more than your physical presence, especially if they can no longer actively engage. Don’t hesitate to initiate a conversation, even when they can’t respond. Many people in this phase are aware of their condition and want to listen even if they can’t talk. 

Don’t make their condition an unaddressed elephant in the room by avoiding the topic. You can provide comfort through discussions about their experiences, feelings and fears. It’s appropriate to delve into their fears, final wishes, joys, memories and regrets. However, do take their lead. If they choose to talk about their impending death, go with the flow. 

They might not always make sense, but do not correct them. Let them talk, reassure them and allow them to control the conversation. 

Avoid clichés like “It’s God’s will” or “Everything happens for a reason,” as it can make them feel at fault. Telling them “they will be alright” or “they will get through this” can be very hurtful as they know it’s far from reality. Accommodate their fears and validate them as part of their journey. 

The greatest gift you can give is the gift of your time. Just being there with them says a lot without uttering a word. Be emotionally supportive and available to make their final days as comfortable as possible. 

Recognize and Validate Their Emotions 

Your loved one may experience a variety of emotions, from fear and anxiety to anger and sadness. Allow them to feel these emotions without judgment or the urge to redirect them. Simply acknowledging their feelings can provide a measure of comfort. You might say things like, “It’s OK to feel scared” or “I can understand why you’re feeling angry.” Avoid invalidating phrases like “Don’t worry,” as they may feel dismissed or misunderstood. 

Handling Difficult Questions 

Sometimes, your loved one may ask difficult questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What will happen after I die?” These questions can be incredibly hard to answer, but it’s important to navigate these moments with compassion and honesty. You don’t have to know all the answers. Instead, validate their fears, and assure them that these questions are OK. 

“I don’t have all the answers, but I’m here for you through it all. We’ll face this together.”

Remember to Take Care of Yourself 

Caring for a loved one who is dying can be emotionally and physically demanding. It’s crucial to take time for self-care so that you can continue being a pillar of support for them. This might involve enlisting the help of a hospice care or palliative care team, attending a support group, or seeking professional counseling. Give yourself permission to feel your own emotions and to seek out your own support system. It’s not selfish; it’s necessary. 

Respecting Their Wishes 

Respect your loved one’s wishes about how they want to spend their final days. Whether they want to be surrounded by family and friends or prefer peaceful solitude, honor their choice. This is their journey, and you are there to support them, not to do what could make you feel better. 

Conversations about death are rarely easy but they are necessary. With utmost respect, patience, love and empathy, you can provide your loved one with the comfort they need during this difficult time.

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