Advice for Talking to Someone Who Is Dying

What to Say to Someone Who is Dying

It is hard to know what to say in difficult times. Even more so when someone you love is dying, this is a scary time for everyone involved.

What do you say? Do you just ignore it? What if you say something distressing? Is it ok to cry?

Read on to find some advice on saying the “right” words.

10 Tips on How to Talk to Someone Who Is Dying

When someone is dying, you may or may not have a problem communicating. Be compassionate and kind in all you do and say.

5 Most Important Things to Say

  1. “I am here for you.” Let your loved one know that it doesn’t matter when, day or night, you are available to them.
  2. “I love you so much.” Say these words often. No one can hear this too much.
  3. “Please forgive me.” You may have some regrets about hurtful words or actions. Don’t let unfinished business remain unfinished.
  4. “I forgive you.” This is the perfect time to let go of hurt feelings and anger. You will also have a feeling of peace after the person’s death.
  5. “Thank you.” Let this person know you appreciate them and all they have done for you. These two words can add dignity to the final stages of life.

5 Things to Avoid Saying

  1. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but…” Don’t push religious beliefs without permission. If you share the same faith, then, by all means, offer comfort through the love of Jesus. If you don’t share the same belief system, ask if they are open to talking about it.
  2. “I always told you this would happen.” Avoid discussing your own thoughts as to “why” they are dying. At this point, there’s nothing to be done about it. The dying person doesn’t need to be proven wrong; they need your love and support.
  3. “If I was dying, I’d certainly…” Don’t talk about how you’d feel if you were in their shoes. This time is about them. Be respectful.
  4. “What color funeral flowers do you want? Who do you want to get the china set?” Avoid a hyper-focus on end-of-life plans. If necessary, find out their wishes for the funeral and other arrangements, and if they enjoy talking about the details then by all means do so. But avoid extra stress by pressing them for a decision on every little detail.
  5. “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” That’s a great quote, but people don’t talk that way in real life. Avoid saying anything cheesy about death. Skip the clichés.

What to Say to Someone Who Is Dying

  1. “What’s on your mind?” Follow the dying person’s lead. It’s best to let the dying individual take the lead in conversation topics.
  2. “I just wanted to spend some time with you.” Showing up and being there will provide your loved one comfort and support.
  3. “Tell me more.” Hear them out. Validate their thoughts and emotions.
  4. “The doctors tell me the end is getting near.” Talk about death and dying. A person in the dying process will want to discuss what it is like to go through it. 
  5. “It’s me, your [daughter/son/spouse].” Hallucination is sometimes a part of dying. If your loved one has upsetting auditory or visual hallucinations, try to bring them back to the present. If the hallucinations are comforting to them, it is best to let them be.

Comforting Words for Someone Who Is Dying

This is an important time for friends and family to reach out with love and support.

Feel free to use some of these quotes with your loved one.

1. “It’s okay to feel scared.”

Your loved one’s feelings are valid. Some days may not be so scary; other days may be overwhelmingly scary.

2. “You won’t be alone.”

Dying is a BIG unknown. No one wants to face it alone. Make sure to be present.

3. “I love you, and I’ll miss you.” 

It’s important to leave nothing unsaid. Let your loved one know how much you value and love them.

4. “My life is better for having known you.” 

This is the time to share these feelings. Express your emotions. Don’t wait for the eulogy.

5. “You won’t feel pain.”

People living with cancer suffer so much pain throughout this horrible illness. It is a comfort for them to understand that the pain medication will help with the pain, and that there will be a time when the pain ends.

6. “How are you doing?”

Discuss their feelings. Listen to them. Everything your loved one is feeling is real and should be acknowledged.

7. “It’s good to see you.”

Let your loved one know you are thinking of them and you are happy to be with them.

8. “What would you like to talk about?”

Your loved one might have something they need to say. Or, they might want to talk about their day. Maybe they want to hear about your day.

9. “You’ve been the most extraordinary friend, and I feel so blessed to have you in my life.”

Don’t let these words go unsaid. You will see how much hearing these words will mean to your loved one. It is so important to spread joy.

10. “I don’t know what to say.”

By admitting you are at a loss for words, it may allow your loved one to pour out their feelings.

11. “Are you scared?”

Ask them about how they’re feeling, what is going through their mind, and what scares them about death. Listen closely. Offer words of comfort when appropriate. The goal is to provide comfort in your loved one’s final weeks, days, or hours.

12. “You taught me to appreciate…”

Tell them everything they taught you to appreciate. Beethoven, baking chocolate chip cookies, watching a good comedy on TV, or whatever it is. Nothing is too small to mention.

13. “We will be okay.”

This is a hard thing to say. Life will never be the same. After all, you really won’t be “okay” without your loved one. You will learn to live differently. But it will be a comfort to your loved one to know that you will be all right.

What to Say to Someone in Hospice

We don’t like to think about it, but at some point, we will have to say goodbye to someone we love.

Hospice is also known as end-of-life care, or palliative care. It is designed to help the patient through the last stages of a terminal illness. Here are some ideas on what to say when visiting someone in hospice.

  1. “I’m sad, but I’m also glad you’re in a place where you don’t have to fight so hard anymore.” Once someone is in hospice, they know their time is short. The fight is over. Now is the time to be given “comfort” measures.
  2. Goodbye.” There is no doubt this is the hardest thing to say to a loved one you will never see again.
  3. “Do you have your final plans in order?” This is important to know if you are the legal next of kin. Make sure you know what your loved one’s wishes are. Is there is a pre-need funeral plan in place, or do they have life insurance? Where is this paperwork being kept?
  4. “Is there anything I can bring you to help make you more comfortable?” It is best to check with the hospice nurse to ensure it is “ok” to bring whatever they may have asked for.

What to Say to Someone Who is Dying Soon

  1. “I will never forget when…” And just start reminiscing. Soon, they will join in and share some long-forgotten memories.
  2. “I just wanted to tell you how much you mean to me.” Never let time pass without telling your friend or loved one how you feel for them.
  3. “What do you most want other people to know?”
  4. “Is there anything you’d like to do today?” Your loved one might be in the mood for a rousing game of checkers, or maybe they want to watch their favorite soap opera.
  5. “What would you like to talk about?” They might be tired of talking about their health. They may want to discuss what books are on the best seller list or the newest movies that are out. Follow their lead.

What to Write in a Card to Someone Who Is Dying

  1. You are in my thoughts daily—you mean so much to all of us.
  2. I am sending you love and joy.
  3. I am here for you—never wait if you need to reach out to me. 
  4. You have touched so many people.
  5. You are a light to everyone around you. Your bravery is inspiring.
  6. I want you to know that I’m thinking of you and sending you positivity. 
  7. You mean everything to those around you.
  8. Your friendship means the world to me.
  9. I keep you in my thoughts and hold you in my heart.
  10. Love is forever.

Sample Letter to Someone Who Is Dying

Dearest Nancy,

I love you; I haven’t told you that enough in this life. Being best friends for the last twenty-plus years has brought so much joy to life! I am also thankful we share the same love for Jesus. We know we will be together again in His presence. We will share an eternity of love and laughter.

When “my time” comes, meet me there.

From your BFF,

Here’s another example.

Hi Tom,

I wish I could be with you on these final days. I didn’t want you to leave this soon, even though I know we will all die eventually. We will all miss you. It will be hard, yet I want you to know that we will be ok. It’s all right for you to take a much-deserved break from this life. You have earned it.

You are in my thoughts daily,

More Things to Talk About with Someone Who Is Dying

It’s important to keep in mind that your dying loved one is a “person.” They are still interested in what you are doing. Keep things as normal as possible.

  • If it is a Grandparent that is dying: Talk about what the grandchildren are doing. Tell them about the Little League ballgame and the ballet recital.
  • Tell your loved one how their pets are doing. Assure them that you are taking good care of “their babies.”
  • Talk about everyday things. This can be very reassuring to your loved one.
  • Talk about the weather, the stock market, or the latest neighborhood gossip.
  • Tell them what their favorite sports team is up to.
  • Ask about their favorite memories, what they want their life legacy to be, how they’d like to be remembered, and what life lessons they would pass on to others. These are important and meaningful topics.

How to Say Goodbye to a Loved One

It is ok for you to cry and be sad. It’s ok to laugh too. Your loved one know that they are dying. They may or may not have come to terms with it. Now is the time to say your farewells because you may never get another chance.

Keep it simple. Just say:

  • Goodbye.
  • I’ll miss you.
  • You’ve meant the world to me.
  • Thank you for the life we shared.
  • We’ll meet again soon.

Here are some poignant thoughts that may inspire you as you share the last moments with your loved one.

  • Endings are not always bad. Most times, they’re just beginnings in disguise. – Kim Harrison
  • To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. – J.K. Rowling
  • Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. – Ernest Hemingway
  • Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them. – George Eliot
  • Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time. It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other. – Leo Buscaglia

How to Honor Someone Who Is Dying

One day, we will all be “that” dying person. This is a good thought to keep in mind. When it’s your turn, what will you want from people?

  • Hold hands with your loved one. Touch can be more important than words.
  • Treat them like the person you have always known and loved. Treat them “normal.”
  • Offer to take care of their pets.
  • Ask them if they need help making end-of-life plans. Do they need to speak to a funeral director? A lawyer? A pastor? And make it happen for them.
  • They don’t need you to bring a gift. Flowers are good, and can make the room look nice, but ultimately what they need is companionship. They need you.
  • Honor their final wishes, even if you disagree with them.
  • Let the past be the past. Forgive and be forgiven. Life is simply too short.

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. – Harriet Beecher Stowe

On the day of your earthly death, take heart in knowing that you will be going to an almost unimaginable place, where you will exist with Christ, for an eternity. – Richard Kelley MD

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What to Say When Someone Is Dying

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