What to say to a dying senior loved one

How to comfort your dying loved one

Saying goodbye to a loved one who is dying is a difficult and confusing time for everyone. However, facing the approaching death with calmness, patience, and love can make this time a time that many grieving family members talk about as being “a precious gift.”

Utilize this gift by communicating with love and honesty. You can provide support and encouragement simply by being there, by being present, and being honest about what is happening. Straightforward communication lets your loved ones know that their feelings are valued. Many people who are dying want to feel that their life has mattered and any reassurance you can give will matter greatly. Expect this time to be emotional.

How can you be reassuring?

You can help your loved one know that you care through talking, sharing memories, even laughing over old times. Expressing feelings like “I wish this wasn’t happening to you” gives you both an opportunity to talk through what is to come. Sit with the person quietly, perhaps just holding their hand. Arrange for family and friends who want to share their goodbyes either in person or through a phone call, if possible.

Create a quiet atmosphere. Often the senses of someone who is dying are enhanced. Loud noises can be disturbing and disruptive. Sit with them silently, using gentle touch to let them know that you are there. When you do speak, use quiet, loving words that can help them to let go. As their bodies go through end-of-life changes, be aware of their comfort needs such as moistening their lips. Dim the lights and play quiet music if it is soothing.

Preparing to say goodbye

No matter the circumstances, saying goodbye is hard. It is a measure of how we care about each other. Being prepared means preparing yourself for what is to come, thinking through what you really want your loved one to know, what arrangements will need to be made and who will need opportunities to say goodbye. Don’t delay saying what you want to say. Too many times, we can be caught unawares and that missed opportunity can leave a large emotional toll.

Try to make those last moments full of quality time with your loved one, asking questions about how they are feeling, or how to be helpful. Be present and mindful of what is happening and how your loved one is feeling. Don’t be afraid to laugh, share favorite memories, read favorite passages in books together, and share a favorite song. Without being maudlin, it’s okay to talk about death or end-of-life arrangements, just be careful not to be overwhelming.

Through reassurance, kindness and honesty, you and your loved one can gain peace of mind.

Making peace

Often, when people lose a loved one, they talk about how hard grieving is because of things left unsaid. In addition, while this is not the time for blunt confrontation, it’s important to take the time to communicate lovingly and honestly with someone who is dying. Talking things out during this time can add meaning to both of your lives.

When talking with your loved one, try following their lead. If they want to talk about things that have been hard between you, let the conversation follow their thoughts. Taking the time to both give and ask for forgiveness can ease the way for your loved one and help you with the grieving process. Even if the outcome isn’t what you might want, you both will benefit from trying. Telling someone that you forgive him or her is good for your mind and heart, even if your relationship has been contentious.

Perhaps the person dying has had a lasting impact on your life. Saying “thank you” can give your loved one an added sense of dignity and peace during this difficult time.

Things to avoid saying

Communicating lovingly and honestly with your loved ones helps to ease their way but sometimes it is confusing to know what to say. Remembering to put their feelings first can be a guide to avoiding some difficult moments. In addition, there are also some things you should avoid saying.

Avoid using clichés such as “Everything happens for a reason.” Trying to process death is difficult enough without feeling as if you may have brought it on yourself. These kinds of sayings come across as insincere.

Avoid making conversation only about yourself or your feelings, or being confrontational. This is a time to be supportive.

Avoid putting your religious beliefs on someone else. While you may have the best of intentions, ask first. They might be very happy to talk about their faith and beliefs at this time, but it should be their choice.

Whether it is a sudden loss or a long-goodbye process, saying goodbye to a dying loved one is never easy. Loving, thoughtful communication can ease the strain of loss for both of you.

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