Not everyone knows what and when it is better to tell a dying person. The recommendations below concern communication with a person at any stage of a serious illness, but especially when it comes to the last days or weeks of life.
- Do not take the lead in the conversation.
It is natural to experience anxiety when talking about death with a dying person, especially if it is your close one. Some struggle with their anxiety, trying to speak directly, without reserve, others, on the contrary, practically do not discuss the current situation because of the fear of depriving the patient of hope. Anyway, in this difficult situation, we all strive to protect each other.
If you feel an urgent need to talk to a dying person about his death, conversations about everyday things can annoy you, and jokes and laughter will seem out of place. On the other hand, if you are embarrassed to talk about death, if it bothers you, then you will be glad that this topic does not pop up. However, in both cases, the most important thing is what the patient himself needs. Ultimately, it is he who chooses, under what conditions, when and with whom to talk about death. Try to notice the signs that he is ready for this conversation, for example, a comment made about new symptoms, loss of interest in forthcoming events, fatigue from illness, desire to be at home, by the way. If it seems to you that you have noticed something similar, ask if he wants to talk about these problems, say that you are not sure whether you understand what he wants to say. Then just listen asking clarifying questions.
- If possible, make it clear that you are aware of the approaching end of life.
Some people who know they are dying prefer not to talk about death almost to the very end. It is important to accept such a choice and respect it. However, more often than not honest and frank conversation allows a dying person to feel support and respect. He may talk about pain, shortness of breath, nausea, may wonder about how it will be when death comes very close. It is necessary to understand that all this worries the patient and does not go away from these topics. You can ask him to talk about his feelings and experiences, suggest making a list of his questions that are important to discuss with your doctor.
A proposal to talk about what the medical specialists say can contribute to a frank conversation about the development of the disease, you can ask what is most necessary for the patient now, find out how you, other friends and family members, the medical staff can help. If a person finds it difficult to answer, suggest options for help: be there and be ready to listen to him, go somewhere on the instructions of the family, help around the house.
Close friends and family members usually want to be with a dying person. In this difficult time, you need to come to some kind of compromise between the needs of the family and the desire of the patient. Ask who the person himself would like to see and how many people can visit him at the same time. If we proceed primarily from the wishes of a dying person, this will help him at a time when he is especially vulnerable, to feel that he is in control of the situation.
When family members and close friends get together, by default everyone understands that death may soon come. To the question of a dying person why you or someone else came to him, it is worth explaining that now you want to be with him. Give him the opportunity to talk about what is happening as death approaches. Answer direct questions just as simply and simply. In your own words, express the idea that, as you think, his “way on earth is coming to an end.”
Find out if there is someone who the dying person would like to talk on the phone, over the Internet or meet in person. This may be a spiritual guide from his community or an employee of a hospital or hospice who is responsible for spiritual support.
If you feel that there is something important that you have not yet told your dying loved one, listen to the advice of the doctor of palliative care of Dr. Ira Bayok (
- In order not to regret anything, say: “Forgive me, please.”
No need to worry about minor grievances and quarrels. However, when you know about the imminent departure of a loved one, you may be saddened that you could hurt him in word or deed, or something else grieved him. So that you are not tormented by remorse of conscience, ask your loved one for forgiveness, express regret about what happened between you, admit that you were also wrong. Describe the problem or situation in simple words, and then say, “Forgive me, please.”
Regardless of the answer, you will know that you have tried to correct what hurts your relationship.
- To the heart was not hard, say: “I forgive you”
Asking a close person for forgiveness, you may be surprised that he will contact you with the same request. After you forgive a person, you will be able to experience the remaining days more deeply with him and keep peace in your soul after his death.
Due to a defensive reaction, misunderstanding or for other reasons, a person may not be ready to admit that he hurt you deeply. Nevertheless, you can still forgive him with your mind and heart. It means letting go of your anger and stop wanting punishment to the one who hurt you. One woman did this to her elderly relative who harassed her when she was a child. When he was dying, she leaned over and whispered, “I forgive you.” He could no longer answer her, and she could not find out how it had affected him, but for the woman herself this was an important step towards relief from severe pain and anger.
- To show that you value a person, tell him: “Thank you.”
Thanking a person for the good that he brought into your life, you thereby emphasize its importance to you, it evokes a sense of self-esteem.
Rabbi Harold Kushner (Rabbi Harold Kushner) writes: “I’m convinced that it’s not so much death that scares us, or the fact that our life will end, but the fear that we’ve been wasted.” Dr. Harvey Chochinov (
- Often and openly confess love.
It’s never too late to say “I love you.” If you usually do not openly tell your close friends about your love, take a chance to do it and surprise them – this will take your relationship to a new level.
- Do not leave farewell words for the last moment.
When your loved one comes close to retiring from life, every conversation with him should end like this is your last meeting. If you say goodbye as usual, for example, leave with the words “see you” or “I have to run, see you soon,” then you can regret how you broke up. The farewell should not be sentimental, just show the person that he is important to you.
If you break up for a long time and are unlikely to see him again, your parting may be more emotional. You can openly tell him that you do not know if you will ever see more. Say everything that should sound. Once again remind your loved one what he means to you. A good farewell will help you avoid regrets when your loved one is gone.
- Touches can also say something.
When you talk to a man who is about to die, you “touch” him with words. When speech is no longer needed or impossible, you can still continue communication. Gently touching your hand to his arm, shoulder or head, you show tenderness, as if telling him: “I am here, you are not alone.”
Keep talking to the person, even if he can no longer answer you. He will feel your presence and hear your voice.
Article author: Glen R. Horst // Glen R. Horst MDiv, DMin, BA
This article was provided with the permission of the Canadian Virtual Hospice. A source.
Translation from English: Alena Pudovkina