It can be difficult to know what to say when someone is dying. Emotions are high and it can be hard to find the words.
Let them lead the tone of the conversation
Everyone deals with death differently. You may be more naturally inclined to have the tone of the conversation be blunt, humorous, or to avoid the topic altogether. Let the person who is passing away set the tone and follow suit. The tone may change several times throughout the conversation, and that’s ok.
Ask for forgiveness and offer it in return
If there are unresolved issues or regrets in your relationship, offer an apology for your part in the situation. Regardless of whether they accept your apology, asking for forgiveness gives the opportunity for the relationship to be healed and leaves you knowing that you did what you could. The same goes if they apologize to you. You can also forgive them, even if they don’t apologize or aren’t able to communicate anymore. This can be a step in you letting go of your anger and hurt.
Whatever the person has done for you, inspired you, been a good friend, cared for you, thank them for what they have done and the legacy they are leaving.
“I Love You”
Whether this is something you usually tell them or not, say it often in these last days. Let them know how you feel and that they matter to you.
It’s ok not to talk
Simply placing your hand on the person’s shoulder or arm can say a lot. It lets them know you are there and that you care. It is ok to have periods of silence when spending time with them. Your presence can be a comfort to them.
Make every goodbye count
Every time you leave, be prepared that it may be the last time you see them. This does not mean every goodbye needs to be long and emotional. There is certainly a place for those, especially if you are leaving for a longer period of time and are less likely to see them again. When you say goodbye, make it sincere and tell them you love them. Avoid casual goodbyes like “see ya later”, or “I’ve got somewhere to be, bye!”. These can leave you wishing that you had said something more meaningful the last time you spoke.
When spending time with someone you love, there is no one right thing to say. If there are things that are important to you to discuss, take the time to do it. It is also ok to talk about lighter topics such as music they are enjoying, who they saw that day, etc. Be sincere and let them lead the tone and topic of conversation. Your loved one will appreciate that you are making the effort to spend time with them. Just the fact that you are there shows that you care.
Glen R. Horst MDiv, Dmin, BA. “Tips for Talking with Someone Who is Dying”. Canadian Virtual Hospice, May 2019, https://www.virtualhospice.ca/en_US/Main+Site+Navigation/Home/Topics/Topics/Communication/Tips+for+Talking+with+Someone+Who+is+Dying.aspx. Accessed 23 Feb. 2022.
Gabrielle Applebury M.A. “What to Say to Someone Who is Dying (and What to Avoid). Love to Know. https://dying.lovetoknow.com/What_to_Say_to_a_Dying_Person. Accessed 23 Feb. 2022
David Heineman. “Five Essential Things to Say to a Dying Person”. Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, 17 Oct. 2019. https://www.crossroadshospice.com/hospice-palliative-care-blog/2018/october/17/five-essential-things-to-say-to-a-dying-person/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2022.