Understanding what to say to a dying family member, friend or acquaintance is difficult. A lot of people have trouble navigating this conversation—unsure about what the right words are and may stumble when talking. Knowing how to express your feelings and offer support to a dying person is important, especially during their final days.
Be Sure To Listen
Create a supportive and welcoming environment where your loved one or friend feels safe to open up and address their feelings. Often, a dying person may want to mend relationships, discuss regrets, or determine how their life had significance. Allow them to open up and discuss their experiences and work through it. Provide a listening ear and make sure your body movements show you are truly listening. Don't pull away physically or emotionally. Lean toward them, make eye contact, and focus on what they are saying. Make them feel important and discuss their legacy and the fond memories you have of them.
Don’t Say It Will Be OK
This is typically our go-to response any time anyone we know is in pain. But when an individual is nearing death, giving false assurances isn’t helpful. Saying everything is going to be fine only makes the patient nervous or angry. While your aunt might have recovered from cancer, you don’t know if the person you are trying to console will. Instead, say things like “I wish this wasn’t happening to you” or “I’m here for you.” You want to acknowledge their unique experience and give support—not reassurances you can’t guarantee.
Be Careful About Offering Prayers
If you both share the same religion, then telling the individual you will pray is usually OK. However, don’t assume everyone is spiritual and believes in the power of prayer or an afterlife. You are, of course, welcome to pray for them if that aligns with your spiritual identity. But if you are uncertain about their own spiritual beliefs, then leave religion out of the discussion.
Do Say You’ll Be There For Them
When you tell someone, you are here for them, mean it. Death can be uncomfortable or scary for some people and they may be unsure how to handle it. Often friends or relatives disappear when they find out about a person’s diagnosis. Confront your own feelings about mortality—whether that is through therapy or journaling—so you are able to support the other person fully.
Ask how they are doing and what you can do to provide the best care for them. They may want help with chores, dealing with finances, or just your presence. Don’t just tell your loved one to call if they need anything. They might feel like a burden and not ask for help when needed. Actually show up and help them without being asked. Bring them dinner, do their grocery shopping, and wash their clothes. Even the simplest of tasks will be appreciated.
In terms of money, the person might decide to sell their life insurance policy to a third party in what are called viatical settlements. A person with a terminal illness or nearing the end of their life may consider doing this to help pay for health insurance costs like hospice care or additional caregivers at a healthcare center in Pikesville, MD. Your loved one may also want to discuss wills, estates, and funeral arrangements. While you might feel uncomfortable talking about what will happen when they pass, they might feel the need to address this in order to find some relief and to release any burdens weighing on their minds. Make sure to not be dismissive or appear restless when having this discussion. You want them to feel like they are being heard.