When someone you love is facing death, you may feel anxious trying to figure out what to do or say to make them feel better. When you don't know how to comfort someone who is dying, it can cause you to withdraw from them during a time when they need your presence the most.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Comfort a Dying Loved One With Cancer
- How to Comfort a Dying Loved One on the Phone or Over Text
- How to Comfort a Dying Loved One in Person
- Other Ways to Comfort a Dying Loved One
Figuring out the right words to say, or even knowing how to say goodbye to a dying loved one is not always easy. The fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say to someone facing the end of life can add anxiety to an already stressful situation.
The following are ways for you to comfort a dying loved one in meaningful ways that will bring peace and closure to you both.
How to Comfort a Dying Loved One With Cancer
Some people facing terminal cancer are more comfortable talking about it than others. Serious issues that affect those that are near death can seem overwhelming and depressing to some. Instead of talking about important matters affecting their final days, they withdraw and refuse to deal with things.
You can help comfort someone who’s dying in ways that will not only help them die a more peaceful death but that will alleviate some of the fears and anxieties they may be facing.
1. Help them make decisions
A terminally ill patient will have to make many end-of-life decisions if they haven’t yet pre-planned for their death. You can help someone who’s dying make confident decisions regarding their last days by discussing and presenting options for the following:
- Their care
- Treatment goals
- Financial matters
- End-of-life decisions
- Hospice care
2. Discuss their wishes
For many patients nearing their end of life, they need to be in charge of their decision-making for as long as possible. In some instances, the caregiver takes over this responsibility without considering the patient’s needs and wants. In others, the patient defers all decision-making to the caregiver without considering the caregiver’s stress levels.
It’s essential to have meaningful conversations about these matters well in advance and before the patient becomes incapacitated or unable to make their last wishes known.
3. Decide together who’ll care for them
Dying with dignity involves having the decision-making powers to decide who will care for you, where, and how. One of the biggest struggles for those facing a terminal illness is accepting that they’ll need help beyond what the medical teams can offer. Mostly when the patient has chosen to die at home, deciding on who’ll be the caregiver may be a difficult decision for them to make.
Most people facing the end of life don’t want to be a burden to any of their loved ones, and they find it difficult to ask for help. Together, you can come up with a caregiving solution that makes sense for everyone.
How to Comfort a Dying Loved One on the Phone or Over Text
When it isn’t possible to visit a dying loved one, maintaining phone or text communication is the next best thing to being there. You may not know what to say to a dying loved one, but talking to someone who’s dying and keeping them company through phone calls and text may alleviate some of the loneliness they may be experiencing. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fear tend to take over those who are facing near death.
Here are a few tips on what you can do to pass the time while talking or texting with your loved one:
4. Share personal stories
Someone who’s facing the end of their life is most likely confined to their death bed without the benefit of enjoying life outside their room. You can spend quality time on the phone talking to them about your everyday experiences, funny moments, or life in general.
A person who’s dying doesn’t always want to talk about death. It helps alleviate some of the depression they may be feeling by taking their mind off of what they’re facing. You can also ask them to tell you stories about things they remember fondly if they’re up to hold a conversation.
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5. Send uplifting texts
When a patient is terminally ill with cancer, they may not have the strength to hold conversations in person or over the phone.
Sending well-spaced text messages throughout the day will let your loved one know you’re thinking of them without adding pressure for them to talk on the phone. They can check their messages whenever they feel the strength to do so. Thoughtful messages are sure to bring a smile to their face.
6. Keep them updated
You may be the only source of news and information for your loved one when everyone else around them is preoccupied with preparing for their death. Find fun and entertaining ways to keep your loved one updated with all the ongoing news outside in the world or even among family members.
Don’t be afraid to share the details of the latest scandal or the hottest family gossip. You can even add humor to lighten the mood by asking them to take the information to their grave.
How to Comfort a Dying Loved One in Person
Communicating in person with someone who’s dying may prove to be emotionally taxing to you. It’s painful seeing someone you love suffering in pain and becoming a shadow of the person they once were. You’ll have to gather your strength to see you through some very challenging times. To help you both make the best of your visits, consider some of the following:
7. Bring a gift
When you sit and visit with someone in person, consider what it must feel like for them to be confined to a bed all day without the benefit of enjoying life outside of four walls. Bring with you some gifts for terminal cancer patients that’ll bring a bit of joy into your loved one’s life.
Consider whether they’re able to play card games, look through old photographs, or watch television with you. It helps a dying person to get their mind off the daily routine of waiting to die by busying themselves with distractions.
8. Offer your help
There may be some unfinished business that your loved one may need help with. Offer to take care of whatever they need to have done before they die.
Sometimes a person gets sick unexpectedly, leaving them with many loose ends that they’re no longer able to get to. Offer your help and confidentiality with sensitive things that may need to be taken care of before they die.
9. Sit in silence
Don’t be afraid to lend your support by just being present by your loved one’s side. Their health condition may have deteriorated to the point where they can no longer sit up or hold a conversation.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t need you by their side to offer your love and support as they transition to the next phase in life. Consider offering foot rubs or massages to help alleviate the stress of laying in bed for long periods.
Other Ways to Comfort a Dying Loved One
The needs of someone who’s dying can be many. Try to tackle all the things that must be done to prepare for your loved one’s death. The next steps are to make their last days as comfortable as possible. Here are some other things worth considering:
10. Arrange for a death doula
End-of-life, or death doulas, support the dying in non-medical ways. They serve to tie in the medical and other end-of-life services your dying loved one may already be receiving and provide additional services not directly related to either. For example, they can provide comfort and healing through meditation, massage, and companionship.
They also serve the family's needs by providing respite care and creating their dying loved one’s legacy. They can conduct and memorialize interviews with the dying either through audio or visual mediums for the family to have for their future needs.
11. Ask a chaplain to visit
A chaplain’s visit near the end of someone’s life provides a source of spiritual comfort to those who are dying as well as to those who are experiencing the death of a loved one. A chaplain provides spiritual care, comfort, and support at a time that’s filled with fear and anxiety.
Chaplains are trained to listen and bring a calming presence to the room where the family may be having a hard time coping with their loved one’s death. They not only provide prayer for the terminally ill but can also help you both with comforting and meaningful words in their last moments of life.
12. Hire a music thanatologist
Prescriptive music can soothe the dying and bring peace and comfort to someone who’s faced with their end of life. A music thanatologist helps the patient and their loved ones deal with death by lessening death anxiety.
Carefully selected music can bring forth spiritual, emotional, and physical healing to those transitioning into death. A music vigil can relieve suffering and bring calmness to an otherwise stressful and emotional time.
Comforting Someone Who’s Dying
Most people want to help give support and comfort to someone who’s dying, but they simply don’t know how. It’s okay to ask someone who’s dying how you can help them to make their last days more comfortable.
Don’t be afraid to talk to them or to express how you feel that they’re dying. Talking about death and offering ways to be supportive helps a dying person cope during their final days. It may also provide you some positive memories to hold onto after they die.