Social Skills

What to Say to Someone Who Is Dying?

It’s natural to feel anxious when talking about dying, especially with someone who is nearing their end of life.

In many cases, it may be hard to find the right words to say. But with a few suggestions, it can be made a little easier.

Here’s what to say to someone who is dying:

Tanya Unkovich

Tanya Unkovich

End of Life Advisor | Speaker | Author, “Unplanned Journey: A Triumph in Life and Death”

“Honey you go now, it is alright. I will be alright”

Those were the final words I said to my husband Phil before he closed his eyes and peacefully passed away.

To this day, I do not know where those words came from, they just naturally came. Little did I know that it was the most perfect sentence I could have said at this time. For Phil, and for me.

So, what do you say to someone who is dying?

Grief is like a fingerprint, different for us all. It is one of life’s unplanned journeys that we do not prepare for, nor are we given any instruction on how to navigate the rollercoaster of emotions we are forced to ride.

We then feel guilt for even entertaining what we consider to be self-centred feelings. After all, how must it be for the person who is nearing the end of their life, if we are going through so much ourselves?

Present grief ignites the flames of our past buried, often unresolved, grief. Once we can identify and deal with this, our stuff, then we will have the ability to put it in its proper place, and be fully present with the one who really needs us right now. They are, after all, now participating in the most important act of their life, their final act.

Make it all about them

So, this is why we step aside and make it all about them. We join them on their journey and allow them to take the lead. It may be that we calmly “be” with them as they ride their own roller coaster of emotions. It may be that we are the quiet confidant, the secret keeper, that one safe haven, they now have.

The journey begins well before those final breaths. It begins once one hears those words, cancer, terminal, months to live, or “I am sorry to say….”.

For many, often those first few days are in fact when the feelings are at their worst and the rollercoaster is the most frightening. The shock, the fear of dying, the anger that you are dealt with this hand, the lack of control of your body, your life, and the crippling uncertainty of what is beyond the horizon.

This is now also your time when you ‘show up’ for them

With certainty, as a pillar of strength for them, even if you do not have the answers. You may not need to say a thing, you are simply a strong foundation for when they need to fall into someone’s arms. It is you, who will be there to catch them, knowing that you have what it takes to hold them through whatever presents itself in that exact moment.

Remember, it is not about you.

Once the first tsunami passes over after the initial diagnosis, even if you do not know exactly what to say to them, walk beside them on their journey, and be prepared for the next wave.

Expect the wave of anger to arise, and it will

Knowing this journey is often unplanned for many, it is not how their life was supposed to be. You will hear, “I didn’t deserve this”, “It’s not fair”, and most certainly, “not this soon”. And it isn’t.

Allow their anger, be with them, sit with them, let it come out, knowing that once they sit with the anger long enough, they will learn that its real name was grief.

Never forgetting, that beneath your own confusion and despair about what you are feeling alongside your loved one, is also your own sadness. You feel sadness for them, for yourself, and for everyone you have lost before them.

The end stage of life can also be alarmingly clinical and matter of fact. Become as informed as you can be about their situation: the diagnosis, the treatment, the consequences of the treatment, and anything else you feel the need to know. Such details can get in the way of precious moments when someone is at the end of their life. It can be very easy to be distracted with small talk, or your own curiosity getting in the way. Silence and being present with someone is far more precious than filling in time with words with no real meaning.

The days pass and you want to make the days count. Therefore, place extra focus on your own self-care, or get the help you need to process your own grief and maneuver through the emotions and the everydayness of your own life. Neglecting your own care will not serve you, or them.

This of course is as much your unplanned journey as it is for them. When walked gently and correctly, the right words, and actions, will come easily and effortlessly for you. What a gift and a privilege for you to be able to walk beside someone during this most extraordinary time.

Whilst you may not feel it at the time, one day, you just may be able to reflect on this journey with unspeakable gratitude. That you were chosen to walk this path and experience love at its finest.

For many who have just been given a terminal diagnosis, regret knocks on their door, possibly not the first time in their life, however, this time the knock is more like the door being broken in.

They feel regret and sadness, not only for what they did not achieve in their life, but for not becoming who they knew they could be. Fear may have stopped them from attempting what they truly wanted to in life.

Many, on the other hand, did not allow themselves to simply be their true authentic self. To own their existence, to own their worth.

Now just may be the time they decide to do this, after all, what is there to lose however much to gain? To now go within and find, feel, and be who they want to be for as long as they can be. If you do not go within, then you take the risk of going without.

For those of you observing on the sidelines, this may be new as you see a different side to your loved one, or your spouse. It may be something that ever so slightly alarms you or it may in fact be something you welcome. Someone whom you have always known was there however now you are finally meeting them, experiencing them, even enjoying them.

Could it also be your time? For you to let go, show up, take down the barriers, remove the narrative of how you ‘should be’, and allow that fearful part of you to fade away. What a beautiful mutual gift one spouse can give to the other when they know their time was limited.

If only we could do this without a terminal diagnosis also being part of the equation. To just be ourselves and experience true freedom. To embrace these moments of oneness, say what intuitively feels like the right thing to say. After all, in relationships, we have similar needs. To know that we are loveable, that we have been loved, and in the end, that our life mattered, as did we.

There does come a time to have the difficult conversations about the practical aspects of preparing for the end stage of someone’s life. What do you say when it comes to planning an end of life celebration? Who says it first, if at all?

This is often a conversation which, rightly or wrongly, doesn’t happen. Neither spouse is able to say the world funeral, or that “d” word, die. Many feel it is a conversation that will bring nothing but pain and a sense of the end looming.

Imagine how it could be for everyone if the meaning about these tough conversations is altered? What if, instead of the meaning being about endings, it was about joy, memories, celebrations, acceptance, and even new beginnings?

What if it was possible that even in the midst of what feels like challenging conversations and suffering, that joy, laughter, surrender and acceptance was also present?

Elisabeth Kubler Ross so famously wrote about the Five Stages of Grief, and the final stage being one of acceptance. What if, throughout this entire journey, as you wonder what to say to someone who is dying, as you wonder how to process your own journey of grief, you are open to acceptance right at the beginning. Why wait?

What if, when you surrender to acceptance of what is, this allows you to show up with your loved one, in a state you might have never known was possible.

When we don’t make it about us, but make it about them, then there will be no concerns about what to say. You will be able to remain out of your head and stay in your heart as you listen, and hear, every word they say. You will feel what they say, and you will naturally know how to respond.

Meanwhile, you continue to walk beside them as they take the road never traveled before, until together you come to a fork in the road. This is when triumph begins. Theirs in death, and yours in life.

Judith R. Sands, RN, MSL, BSN, CPHRM, CCM, CPHQ, ARM

Judith Sands

Clinical Consultant | Author, “Home Hospice Navigation: The Caregiver’s Guide”

Hearing is widely thought to be the last sense to go in the dying process. As such, it is vital to continually speak to the dying individual, and also to be very sensitive to what is said around that individual.

Disparaging remarks, or speaking as if the person is a burden or has already died can be extremely anxiety-provoking resulting in agitation, labored breathing, and an increase in the need for sedation.

If the individual can participate in the conversation, be sure to provide them with sufficient time and assistance to be sure that they have expressed and shared everything that they want to. Do not use this precious time for arguments or rehashing of long standing “issues.”

This conversation will also be shaped by culture and religion, that may impact on what and how things are shared and who may be able to participate in this final conversation.

Topic areas that provide comfort for the speaker (family/friends) should include:

  • Reminisce. Talk about happy, fun exciting, and special times shared.
  • Forgive. Let the individual know that you are letting go of grievances.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Let them know that past issues have been resolved.
  • Share their impact. Share how the dying individual contributed, enriched, shaped your life, helped you in some way. A way to say “thank you” for the relationship.
  • Express love. Depending on the relationship, the conversation will differ. This is the time to reaffirm the relationship. Be sure to echo the words “I love you” so that the declaration is clear and affirming.
  • Follow their instructions or carry out their wishes. Often, an individual has been designated by the dying individual to carry out instructions. It could be to look after a particular individual or pet, perform certain tasks (property, valuables, obligations). Affirm that you will abide by their wishes and will carry out the instructions as requested.
  • It’s OK to go. Give permission for them to die in peace. Let them know that they can go and rest, they will be missed, yet their time is now go on their journey.

David Kessler

David Kessler

Grief and Loss Expert | Founder, Grief | Author, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief”

What do you say to the dying? Does talk about cars cheer them up or make them sad? Should you talk about things they used to do or used to want? About the latest laboratory results? The weather?

The more honest you can be, the better

You never know what someone needs when going into a conversation. The person you are talking to may not know either, for dying is always a new experience. The emotions of the person who is dying may change from day to day or moment to moment. If you do say, “I saw a great car,” only to hear, “I don’t care about cars anymore,” the more honest you can be, the bet­ter. It’s fine to say: “I don’t know what to say to you. Should we talk about baseball or your chemotherapy?”

Treat them as living human beings

The dying wants to be treated—and they have the need to be treated—as living human beings until the moment they die. Unknowingly we “protect them” from the valuable opportunity to complete their life.

Often, we think of them as their diseases, by acting as if they are incapable of making their own decisions, by negating their opinions, by overlooking their desires, by with­holding information from them, and by omitting them from con­versations.

Without realizing we are doing so, we rob them of their dignity, we rob them of their own last chapter of life, and we rob them of their chance to tell us they know they are dying. With all that is going on today in the world being able to be and talk to the dying is a true gift.

My mentor and coauthor Elisabeth Kubler Ross said there were only 5 things to really say to the dying:

  • I forgive you.
  • Please forgive me.
  • I love you.
  • Thank you.
  • Goodbye.

We still often look to say more such as:

  • Instead of “How are you?”, say, “How are you today?”.
  • Instead of “It’s going to be okay”, say, “No matter what happens I am here for you”.
  • Instead of talking to fill the silence, listen to the dying, and allow the silence.
  • Instead of telling them you know someone who beat it, say “I will be with you no matter what happens.”

Dr. Tami Frye

Tami Frye

Core Faculty (Master of Social Work Program), Walden University

Respect them enough to use the word dying

The person knows they are dying, so don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t use euphemisms and don’t avoid the subject.

Most people who are dying will be grateful to have someone allow them the freedom to talk about what they are going through, what they are afraid of, and what they are feeling about the experience.

Listen

The dying are processing a lot of thoughts and feelings. They are thinking a lot as they go through a process called life review.

More than anything, a dying person needs someone who will allow them to review their life, both the good and the bad. They aren’t looking for advice or expecting you to fix things. They just want you to listen.

Don’t hide behind platitudes or bumper stickers

A dying person gets no comfort from the little phrases you offer when you don’t know what else to say. Saying things like “God bless you” or “I’m praying for you” is not helpful. Instead, talk about meaningful things, like pleasant memories you made together.

Share good memories about the time you spent with the person

Talk about fun things you did together, no matter how long ago. Discuss what you enjoyed about being with the person or about how they made you feel. Use this opportunity to thank your friend or loved one for anything good you got out of your time with them.

Say goodbye

If you will miss the person, tell them that. Say that you’ll experience grief, but you’ll be ok. If you’re very close with the person, they may be holding off on dying until they know you’ll be alright.

Give them permission to die. It’s not an easy thing to say, but it is an act of pure love to give a loved one permission to go on to their rest. It represents selfless love and true love. It shows the dying that you love them deeply.

Julie G. Kays, MS, LCPC, NCC

Julie Kays

Manager and Clinical Counselor, The Counseling Center at Stella Maris

Much like each individual’s life, a human being’s death is intricate, unique and personal. It is often difficult to know what to say to someone who is dying because not many of us have experienced our own deaths before.

While we might be able to draw from personal experience when discussing other life experiences, death is unknown territory for most. Death is a subject often avoided, so not many know what to say when faced with the end of life, particularly when facing the death of someone whom we care about deeply.

Ask them and be willing to hear whatever they have to say without judgment

Rather than make assumptions about what a dying person is experiencing, it is best to honor them by asking them and being willing to hear whatever they have to say without judgment. Oftentimes, those who are dying try to protect those they love and keep their experience to themselves.

Allowing a dying person to express themselves honestly without an attempt to contradict or make them feel better with platitudes, is one of the most generous things we can do for someone who is dying.

By allowing the person who is dying to honestly express their pain, fear, or questions, we can selflessly create space for them to make sense of their dying process in healthy ways and help them attend to the work of dying.

Talk about the impact the dying person has had on your life and how much they mean to you

While making suppositions about the dying person’s experience is something to be avoided, expressing what the individual has meant to you personally can be healing for both you and the person who is dying.

Talking about the impact the dying person has had on your life can provide resolution to an individual as they face the end of their life since many of us want to know that our lives have had meaning and that we have made a difference to others.

Having the opportunity to share your personal impact story with someone who is dying is one of the most meaningful things you can offer them.

Give them permission

Facing the death of a loved one is a painful experience and while expressing to a person who is dying what they have meant to you and telling them that they will be missed is important, giving them permission to die is a loving way of helping them transition into death.

Oftentimes, a person who is dying holds on to life in order to save their loved ones from pain or out of fear of the unknown and what comes next. Telling a person who is dying that it is okay to go and offering them the assurance that those left behind will hurt, but will survive after their death, offers the person the freedom to let go.

Give them the gift of presence

While we struggle with the right thing to say to someone who is dying, we often overlook one of the most valuable things we can offer someone at the end of life; the gift of our presence.

As a person nears death, they often lose the ability to communicate, but their sense of touch and hearing are still active. We should say what is on our heart, say ‘goodbye’ and give them permission to go even while our heart is breaking.

More than words, our presence offers companionship for a dying person’s journey, providing comfort for their fear and uncertainty. Through our presence, we remind them that they are loved and are not alone, much like their spirits continue to remind us long after they are gone.

Rev. Allen Siegel

Allen Siegel

Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Care Services, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health

40 years of bearing witness with the dying have told me the circumstances of the person’s life, their belief system, their culture, the cause of their dying and their age are all variables that impact the dying person’s experience as well as the person who is with the dying. Dying is a profound mystery in the human condition.

Begin with two words, “I’m here”

Then embody those two words through presence. Presence is giving your complete, undivided attention to the dying person. Being with dying is about bearing witness. It is a journey in which the person dying dictates the course of travel.

We respond with active listening and inviting that person to share. We receive what is shared by not dissecting it, but by simply being available as the person reflects on the experience of dying.

We are present through our compassion and loving-kindness towards that person by taking care of their needs and bringing comfort. We express all this through empathy, feeling what the dying person is feeling but not becoming them. We keep our distinction as we acknowledge all that is happening.

In whatever our relationship is with the dying person, simply saying, “I’m here” and embodying “I’m here” is a wonderful gift to someone who is dying.

Kori D. Novak, PhD, MBA

Kori Novak

Researcher, Oxford University | Fellow, Stanford School of Medicine

Sometimes it’s not about “saying” anything

Being there and holding their hand, wiping their brow, can be enough. Sometimes it’s about a whisper of love or recognition of a relationship- such as “I love you, Mom” or “You have always been there for me Dad and I appreciate you”.

Saying something to a dying loved one is about opening your heart and when you do that, words don’t always suffice, but the feels will always translate to your loved one, even if no words are spoken.

The reality is there are no magic sets of words to make those who are dying or the loved ones of the dying “feel better”.

It comes down to knowing who they are and going with your gut. You know the person well enough to know what is appropriate. But be aware and tread gently. When an individual faces their own mortality, they may change how they feel about jokes or lightheartedness.

Hearing the words “terminal” or “you are dying” can obviously be a blow to a loved one and their family. It often causes us to put up a tough façade, or perhaps joke or make light around a terminal diagnosis. Making the assumption that it is ok to jump on that bandwagon and make jokes can be hurtful. Of course, that is the last thing we want to do.

So how do we determine the reality versus what our loved one may be showing us? Take their cues. Watch them and truly listen. If they are light-hearted about it and it is genuine, you will feel that. If you are still unsure, just ask your loved one.

It is important to acknowledge that within a terminal diagnosis, there can be physical communication issues. Diseases that cause cognitive decline can make talking to a dying loved one difficult. Dementia or the decline of the ability to vocalize can be significant barriers to communication.

Know that it is ok to just say, “I don’t know what to say but I love you and I am here”. It is ok to let them know you are scared or worried. Keeping communication open, honest, and genuine is the key to successful communication with a loved one with a terminal diagnosis.

Related: 10 Best Books on Understanding Death and Dying

Gail Rubin

Gail Rubin

Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death® | Coordinator, Before I Die

“Thank you for the honor of your company”

Years ago, I spent several months away from home to work. I had a great relationship with my sophisticated, elderly next-door neighbors. Clinton and Mary would invite me over for cocktails by the pool at 5:00 p.m. We would listen to jazz music and discuss all sorts of grown-up topics.

Clinton fought off several kinds of cancer during his life. As the time was drawing near for me leave for several months, he was declining quickly. There was a very real possibility that he would die while I was out of town. We both knew it.

Over cocktails by the pool, I said, “Thank you for the honor of your company. Your friendship has meant so very much to me.” Clinton said, “Thank you for your friendship. The honor was all mine.”

My eyes still tear up when I think about this exchange. He died before I returned. Don’t put off saying words of love and respect to those who are dying.

Susan Binau

Susan Binau

Founder, Grief Heroes Foundation | Author | Keynote Speaker

Focus on what makes the most sense

It may be that death and the mental images we have of it need to be addressed, but it might also be that talking about the value of the relationship you have with each other is important.

Another option may be telling your loved one what you are doing in the room or what you can see out the window.

You might recall good memories of the time you have had together, what they have taught you, or share the value of your relationship with one another.

If the dying person is still conscious these are questions you can ask to encourage conversation:

  • “Are there stories or experiences from your life you would like to share with me?”
  • “Do you want to know how I have appreciated you in my life?”
  • “What knowledge about life do you think I might need to have with me?”
  • “What would you most like me to remember about you?”
  • “What are the things you have done during your life that you are most proud of?”
  • “Where do you think I can best find you when I want to think of you? The stars? The beach? That tree in our front yard…?”

Be inquiring and listen

If you need to talk more specifically about death or some of the situations that arise around medical care, it is important to be inquiring and to listen.

Try not to deny feelings, or to negate or minimize them. Listen actively, and give your loved one time and space to express their feelings. Ask questions like:

  • “What do you think/how do you feel about what the doctor just said?”
  • “It seems as if you are angry/desperate/scared. Is it something you want to talk to me about?”
  • “How would it be for you if we shared with each other what we think happens when people die?”
  • “Is there something you need to talk to me about? I am here to listen, and I would like to help if I can, no matter what it is about.”

Sometimes the dying can be protective of their loved ones, meaning that they are uncertain about what their relatives can handle, or whether or not they can cope with death and the dying process. Or they might feel anger, despair, and fear—emotions they might even project onto relatives. In those cases, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The support of the clergy or a psychologist can often be a good solution, both for the dying and for their families.

Remember, it is never too late to say, “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” or “Please forgive me.”

This is probably not the time to confess your sins, seek comfort for your guilt, or tie up every negative loose end. Use moderation when tempted, or seek counsel from others about how or if to proceed. Most of all, take time to listen, not just to talk.

Denish Walsh

Denish Walsh

Clinical Psychologist | Life Coach

If you have a loved one who is dying, just try to be there for them even if you are not comfortable talking or thinking about death. Whatever you communicate to them, be sure to do it with kindness and compassion. It is always good to keep a check on them and ask them how their day is coming along. Engage with them in things that they like to do.

Avoid being too sympathetic

However, don’t try to be too sympathetic, as that can come off as hurting or offensive. It can make someone feel bad, that you are only being “extra nice”, “extra kind”, and “extra helpful” only because they are dying. The aim is to make them feel normal and comfortable.

One thing that most people end up doing wrong is that someone who is going through something which they know is not reversible, telling them that “everything is going to be okay”.

It is probably one of the first instincts of anyone to say this. However assuring someone this, isn’t a good idea because they’d just think that there isn’t any guarantee that what is happening to them can be reversed.

Try to be a good listener

This would make the other person feel better as a whole. Don’t judge them on whatever they say to you. Just quietly listen, and try to understand their situation by putting yourself in their shoes. When they start sharing their feelings, try asking them questions like:

“Do you want to say more about that?”

If the person communicates to you about logistical, end-of-life matters such as funeral arrangements and more, don’t react emotionally. Listen to them, and offer them your help wherever you think you can. Try saying something like:

“Don’t worry, we’ll have everything done the way you are asking for it. If there is anything else in your mind, do let me know”.

This would make the person believe that they can rely on you, and can talk to you about anything without feeling uncomfortable.

Sharlene H. McClendon, MS, LPC, CCTP

Sharlene H. McClendon

Licensed Professional Counselor, Healing Together Solutions, LLC | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional | Speaker | Educator

Some individuals have come to the end of their life journey and have a joy for the life they have lived, while others are forced to come to the end of their life journey.

Things to say to someone who is dying can be: I love you. You are not alone. You are safe with me. I am here to hold you. You matter, and I see you. All of these statements can become an open door for support, compassion, stability, and tenderness.

The question isn’t just what to say to someone who is dying, but how do you show up for someone who is dying

Speaking with clients who are experiencing an end of the life journey, many are looking to be seen, supported, and safe during their journey. They want to know that their life journey has been important, impactful, and they have made a difference in the lives of their loved ones.

So, the question isn’t just what to say to someone who is dying, but how do you show up for someone who is dying, and how do you see, love, advocate, and be a secure foundation for the person who is dying?

Showing up for someone who is dying isn’t an easy journey or task for the person being present. This comes with many challenges as well as confusion surrounding how do you bear witness and create a safe space for someone who is dying and be present with the journey as a caregiver.

The way to show up and still take care of oneself can start with having still moments of gratitude for the opportunity to be present in love, encouragement, and patience as the caregiver who is witnessing an important life journey of a loved one.

Being chosen to hold space and time for a loved one who is dying can become a privilege as you the caregiver record the life and legacy of the individual’s strength, love, and humanity while showing compassion for the person who is dying.

Jennifer A. O’Brien, MSOD

Jennifer O'Brien

Author, “The Hospice Doctor’s Widow: A Journal”

Take a deep breath. People die as they live. If this is a good friend of yours or a close relative, nothing changes about the nature ofthe relationship because the person is dying. If she/he is a mere acquaintance, the same holds. The depth, breadth and nature of the relationship remain.

What is different, however, is that you are into Precious Time. Precious Time is the type of time you have with someone when death is likely or imminent. Precious Time is when you say what you need to say, and you don’t say what you will later regret. The difference is not in the relationship but in the period of time the relationship has entered.

Don’t save your words of love, appreciation, and reflection, share them

Unlike nearly everything else we do in our relationships, there are no do-overs at the end of life. Don’t save your words of love, appreciation, and reflection, share them. If you have additional time together during the Precious Time, then you have the opportunity to repeat, emphasize, reflect, or share more.

All the while, you are managing your own survivorship. You will go on after this person has died and lived with what you did or did not say or do. There are no second chances for survivors in how we handled ourselves at the end of someone else’s life.

That’s why you say what you need to say and you don’t say what you might later regret. That’s why sometimes it is entirely appropriate to simply be with the person who is dying and say little or nothing.

Your words and memories of that last conversation or conversations will stay with you for a long time. The golden rule applies here, treat them as you would want to be treated and as you can live with as you go on without them, with no opportunity for seeking forgiveness or offering clarification. The end of life is fertile ground for regrets that are perhaps never resolved or overcome.

If you simply cannot think of the right words, but you feel because of the nature of the person who is dying and the relationship you shared that saying something is appropriate, read someone else’s words – perhaps a poem that you know the person loved or their scripture preference, hum or sing a favorite song softly, recount a fond memory you have of them or being with them.

Look at some old photos of the two of you and reflect on the wonderful memories you made together. Remember, stay true to your relationship with the dying person and the dying person, to what they might want to hear. If they were not particularly religious, do not read scripture.

End-of-life professionals and studies indicate that even when unconscious and very close to death, people can sense the presence of others and that hearing is the last sense to go. People can still feel us and hear us even if they are unconscious, so all of the above applies until the last.

Say what you need to say and don’t say what you will later regret. Reflect on good times and memories. Or, just be there and hold space for the person and the relationship you shared and for your survivor self.

Take a deep breath. Be yourself, your best self, because even when you know someone is dying, it always feels too soon when they do. Depending on your relationship, you may carry these last memories with you until your own life ends.

Allen Klein, MA, CSP

Allen Klein

Author, “Embracing Life After Loss”

As a former hospice volunteer, I’ve been around a number of dying people. Since I never knew what the situation might be like when I entered a dying patient’s home, there were a few things I did that helped me adjust to the circumstance, including what to say.

I centered myself with a few minutes of meditation. Before entering a patient’s room, I breathed in peace and exhaled any tension I might be having. I also made sure I had a slight smile on my face.

Be present and listen

Then when I was at a patient’s bedside, I listened to what they saying. If they just talked about the weather, then I could ask where they grew up and what the weather was like there. If they wanted to talk about deeper things like death, then I’d ask them their thoughts on the subject.

The bottom line is, listen to the patient, they will tell you what to say.

Jamie McCann

Jamie McCann

Executive Writer |Content Writer

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly more than a decade since my Mom‘s death. It was the summer of 2009 when ALS took her far too soon at the young age of 73. At the time, my folks were retired and living in Tucson, AZ.

If there any solace in her passing, it’s she died after suffering for just a few short months unlike many who linger with this ugly disease for years. When Mom died, she and my Dad were just six weeks shy of celebrating their 50th anniversary.

With my sister in Seattle, a brother in San Francisco, and myself in Orange County, California, we all were able to visit frequently. Admittedly, my sister and brother did get together with my parents much more frequently than me. The reason being, my Dad and I have never really got along. In my opinion, it’s because he and I were—and continue to be—much more similar than different.

Share good stories from the past

I recall my wife and I made a trip to visit my folks just two weeks before my Mom’s death. Prior to arriving, I made the conscious decision that this weekend was about reflecting and remembering good times rather than dwell on the inevitable.

So, that’s precisely what we did—for three nights and two days, we just told stories; some about the family and others about friends growing up. Many of these stories involved each of us filling in some details that the others may not have remembered, or possibly, ever knew.

Other stories appeared to be the first time they were ever shared and proved to be entertaining at a whole new level. And, while it was great to share some laughs—and tears—with my Mom, it also seems to be good for my Dad and I as we both were able to put our differences aside for a weekend and just focus on making the time well spent with Mom.

Less than two weeks later, my mom died with my dad, sister, and brother by her side. I purposefully was not. And, while this decision of mine proved to be another rife between my Dad and me, I explained to him then and still convinced to this day, that the weekend we shared just a couple of weeks prior, was much more “healing” and beneficial to me than sitting by her bedside with the rest of the family waiting for her to die. I’m convinced that was also better for her as well. While my Dad couldn’t fathom that rationale then, and to this day, brings it up whenever we have a disagreement of any sort.

I miss my Mom daily, yet I find it difficult to feel any emotions—good or bad—for my dad. Yet, I truly hope we’re able to reconcile our differences soon. With him being 88 and getting ill more frequently, I have not received a letter, email, phone call, or text from him since Mom died.

I still call him from time to time just to check-in, but I feel the tension and shallowness of our conversations each time. I’m sure he can as well. I know our time is running out so I’m hoping we can resolve things soon.

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