What to Say to the Dying
Death is a part of life, albeit a sad part as we lose those near and dear to us, but as the saying goes – ‘like taxes, death is inevitable’. Sadly, because generally we avoid any thought of death, when the time comes, we don’t know how to cope or even what to do.
A very common reaction is to avoid acknowledging that death is imminent. People who are close to death will often want to talk about it, about what is to come, what they hope will happen after they are gone and what they wish they had done differently, but all too often we shut down those conversations because we don’t know what to say, or don’t want to feel the emotions that will be bought up.
Not everyone will want to talk, but if they do, honour them by letting them lead the conversation in the direction they wish it to go. Talking to someone who is dying can be very uncomfortable as it is difficult to find the right words when we are feeling sadness and impending loss. Don’t try to steer the conversation in a way that will make you more comfortable but rather let them make their peace in whatever way they need.
They may say that they know death is inevitable or they are waiting to die and our natural reaction is to deny this, but it is their choice to talk about it. Acknowledge what they are saying but also let them know that you are finding it difficult. Don’t try to hide your emotions as this could possibly be the opening they need to share their feelings and thoughts.
Impending death often brings up a lot of regrets. People often wish they had done things differently, perhaps kept in touch with friends and family, worked less or said things to people at different times in their lives. Allow them this time to get rid of feeling of guilt, remorse or regret by talking about it as much as they need.
Not everyone has regrets about their lives, or if they do, they are not sufficient to need forgiveness or redemption in their minds. Many people like to talk about the happy times, about the people in their past lives who have gone, about the memories that mean a lot to them for many different reasons. Just because someone is dying, it doesn’t always mean everyone should be sad. Again, let the person who is dying lead the way, allow them to spend time with friends and family if that is what they desire or run interference for those who they prefer not to see.
In our society we try to protect children from the idea and reality of death. Talk openly and honestly to your children while at the same time keep the words and explanations suitable for the age group involved. Let them see that you are sad and that you will miss the dying person and at the same time acknowledge that it’s okay to cry and grieve for that person.
Once a dying person is no longer able to talk, you can still talk to them as long as it doesn’t appear to distress them. Hold their hands and talk to them about everyday things, about what is happening in your world, about mutual acquaintances or remember past time and people. Just knowing you are with them will help makes those last hours more pleasant and at the same time will give you memories of your loved one that will help you through your grieving.
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