Saying goodbye to a loved one seems like an impossible task. It’s hard to imagine your future without someone you care deeply about. But when someone is nearing death, it’s important to consider how hard this time is for them, too. Knowing what to do and what not do is important. Therefore, we’re sharing ways to express your love and gratitude while also honoring the feelings of your loved one.
Don’t try to control the conversation
One of the best things you can do for someone who is nearing the end of their life is let them lead the conversation. Be aware of cues that they’re anticipating death — perhaps they bring up a new symptom, wonder aloud if they’ll be around for an upcoming event, or request to go home. Offer a listening ear and ask follow-up questions. It’s also helpful to be aware of the physical signs that death is nearing.
Do provide space for your loved one to talk
Whether you’ve heard clear cues that your loved one is aware they are dying or not, do your best to create space for conversation without pressuring them to talk. Try empathetic questions such as:
- Do you want to talk about it?
- How are you feeling about what you’re going through?
- Is there anything you need?
- Is there anyone you want to talk to?
- How can I best support you right now?
It’s painful to face the truth, but in doing so you will make your loved one feel seen and heard.
Don’t pretend your loved one isn’t dying
Suffering and loss are hard things to face — and it’s very common to deny the reality of the situation. (After all, denial is the first stage of grief.) You might feel tempted to pretend like death isn’t approaching, but your loved one likely already knows that death is near. Avoid using phrases such as, “You’re going to get past this” or “When you get better we’re doing to do X and Y.”
Do bring up special memories you shared
It can be hard to know what to say to someone who is dying. If you’re not sure where to start, start with memories. Who doesn’t love to reminisce about happy times? It may sound morbid, but consider the memories you would share at your loved one’s funeral, and go ahead and share those memories now. You might just find that these last few moments together end up creating a beautifully bittersweet final memory for you to hold in your heart.
Don’t hold off on saying goodbye
Are you listening to your own instincts? As we shared earlier, it’s common to deny reality when reality means facing grief. But you will likely experience a sense that your loved one is slipping away. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye. It can be the hardest thing to do, but you’ll regret it if you let the opportunity pass by. Express your love and gratitude, give them a kiss, and say goodbye. Perhaps death will not come right away, and you will get to see them again — but what if you don’t?
Do take care of yourself
Caring for a dying loved one can be mentally and physically draining. An article on grief posted by The American Psychological Association says, “When we lose a spouse, sibling or parent our grief can be particularly intense. Loss is understood as a natural part of life, but we can still be overcome by shock and confusion, leading to prolonged periods of sadness or depression.”
There are many ways to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Eat healthy, energizing foods. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members. Talk to a trusted friend or spiritual advisor. Give yourself breaks from caregiving or being at your loved one’s bedside to recharge your batteries. Journal your feelings. Breathe!
Would you benefit from processing your thoughts and questions with someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one? We would be honored to assist you.