When a friend is faced with the end of their life, finding meaningful ways to say goodbye can be challenging as you grapple with the pain and fear of losing them. Knowing what to say to them can be difficult, as many people may not know how to say goodbye to someone who is dying.
Items to Help You Convey Your Message
- Gotideal 80-Page Scrapbook ($13.99)
- Construction Paper ($4.70)
- Singer Crafting Scissors ($7.95)
- Memorial Jewelry
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Should You Say (or Avoid Saying) to a Dying Friend?
- How to Say Goodbye to a Friend If You Can See Them Face-to-Face
- How to Say Goodbye to a Friend If You Can’t Be There in Person
- What Can You Write in a Letter or Card to a Dying Friend?
Stepping aside from your own pain to face another's can leave you overwhelmed with emotion and at a loss for words at a time when comforting words are most needed.
Even when the end is near, saying goodbye doesn't have to be a sad and somber event. When approached from a place of love and compassion, a shared final goodbye between friends can be a beautiful experience.
This can be your opportunity to listen attentively to them, ease their fears, and share in the final moments as their life comes to an end.
What Should You Say (or Avoid Saying) to a Dying Friend?
Any person facing the end of their life will likely go through the painful emotions of grief as they anticipate their death. Your friendship might look and feel much different from just a few short months ago. Your friend may have already disconnected from you to focus on what they're dealing with or spend their last few days with their closest loved ones.
This behavior can lead you to feel betrayed and forgotten about, especially when you don't understand why your friend has decided to move away from you and the bond you once shared.
Everyone goes through different emotional ups and downs as they face their death. Knowing that their time on earth is limited can cause a person to experience the stages of grief while still living. You can expect your dying friend to feel shock, anger, and disbelief, all of which are natural and normal responses to loss. They may also go through a phase where they try to bargain with God and the universe for added time.
Expect that it'll take some time for your friend to come to terms with their looming death and that they'll need time to process what that means for them.
During this time, know that your friend might be struggling with many things beyond their physical or medical condition. They may be questioning their faith, having difficulty reconciling their life's decisions, or regretting not having made amends with estranged loved ones. If your friend is open to talking about their feelings, try addressing some of these typical end-of-life concerns.
Let them know that you care and understand what they might be going through, and offer to talk with them about whatever they need to get off their chest. Try to avoid telling your friend that you know what they're thinking and feeling because no one can honestly know what's happening inside someone else's head. Instead, be their sounding board, and offer encouragement and unconditional love and support.
Above all else, be honest with your friend about everything. Don't be afraid to broach difficult conversations and talk about your shared life, what their death means to you, and how you think you'll manage without them once they're gone. Try to keep their spirits up without coddling them or talking down to them. And try not to lie to them or offer false hope to make them feel better about their situation.
How to Say Goodbye to a Friend If You Can See Them Face-to-Face
One of the greatest gifts you can give to a dying friend is your time and attention during their final days. Most people tend to avoid visiting with the dying because they fear death or have no idea of what makes up modern deathbed etiquette.
Instead of facing their fears, most people avoid the situation and the person who is dying. This can be a terrible waste of precious time for both the dying and the friend afraid to visit. If only we knew how to say goodbye before having to learn how to remember a friend that died after they are gone.
1. Visit often
The best gift you can give to someone who is dying is the gift of your time. If your friend is faced with a terminal illness or the aftereffects of an accident or injury, they most likely are confined to their deathbed.
They're no longer able to move about freely to visit those they wish to see one last time before they die. So now it's up to you and others to make time to visit them during their final days.
These deathbed visits may offer the dying a respite from thinking about what lies ahead for them. Most people faced with the end of life know and understand that their time is coming to an end. Giving of yourself during this time is a selfless act that shows your friend how much you love and care for them.
2. Talk openly about death
Talking openly about death and speaking clearly and directly about it honors your friend in their final moments. Be honest with your friend about their impending death and don't sugarcoat the inevitable.
When you give false hope of recovery or avoid talking about death, you risk alienating your friend and diminishing the trust between you. Your friend may likely prefer to have an honest conversation with you about everything life has to offer, including death.
3. Find out what scares them
Treat every visit with your friend and every opportunity to talk with them as the final time to say your goodbyes. It's important to not take for granted that they'll be there the next time you stop by. During your visits, focus your attention on them. This isn't a time to focus on yourself or to make the end-of-life process about you. Your friend knows that you're sad and hurting because they're dying.
It's okay to tell them how you feel, but after doing so, shift the conversation right back to them. Ask them about how they're feeling, what is going through their mind, and what scares them about death. Listen intently and offer comforting words where appropriate.
4. Find closure
When you give each other the opportunity to say all the things you’ve been meaning to say, you allow yourselves the gift of peace and closure. It may be that you and your friend had a falling out years ago that neither of you took the time to talk about.
Or, perhaps the two of you just let bygones be bygones without either of you acknowledging fault or accepting responsibility. This is your final opportunity to apologize or ask for forgiveness.
5. Offer to help
Knowing that your friend is on their deathbed and is unable to finalize certain things they were wanting or needing to take care of before they die, offer to take over those tasks. Ask your friend what you can help with to ensure that they die a peaceful death.
It may be uncomfortable for you to find out certain things about your friend that perhaps you were unaware of before, but remember that this is about them and not about you.
6. Write a goodbye letter
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to say everything you want to say, you may find yourself not knowing how to put into words what you’re feeling inside. Maybe you find yourself being overly sensitive and emotional every time you see your friend and the words just won’t come out as intended.
One way to ensure that you say everything that’s in your heart and mind is to write a goodbye letter to your friend. Penning a letter gives you the opportunity to practice what you want to say, and to make corrections and additions as needed.
7. Make a scrapbook
You can say goodbye to your friend by sharing memories of the two of you together as you memorialize your friendship throughout the years through the use of scrapbooking. You can sit and visit as you go through old photographs and mementos of life’s events you both shared.
Consider making two scrapbooks — one to take with you, and one to leave behind as a tabletop book for your friend’s visitors to look through. All you need to do is pick up a few scrapbook supplies, like a scrapbook, craft paper, and crafting scissors.
8. Offer hugs
Another way of communicating is through touch. There will be times where your emotions may get the better of you, and you won’t be able to say much of anything at all.
Offering hugs and the healing power of touch during these times is all that may be needed.
9. Go down memory lane
Aside from scrapbooking, it can be fun to just sit and reminisce about all the fun times the two of you shared. Perhaps it wasn’t all fun and games and the two of you suffered through some tough times together.
Going down memory lane is a good way of spending time together and finding additional meaning to your visits. You may want to prepare ahead of your visit so you know what you want to do or talk about while you are there so that you are not at a loss for things to do.
How to Say Goodbye to a Friend If You Can’t Be There in Person
For the times where you can't visit your dying friend in person, know that there's plenty of ways for you to say your goodbyes. Today's technology makes it easy to stay in touch by phone and video conferencing.
There shouldn't be any reason for you to miss this final opportunity to spend quality time with your dying friend.
10. Have video chats
Coordinate with your friend’s family or caregiver for a time when the two of you can chat over FaceTime, Skype, or Whatsapp.
These video conferencing calls are an excellent way to see each other whenever you’re unable to visit with each other in person. It may seem awkward and uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to making these types of video calls, you will likely not want to revert back to regular telephone calls.
11. Send comforting texts
You can send words of comfort to your friend through text throughout the day. Little pick-me-ups, daily scripture, or grief quotes can really liven up your friend’s mood and brighten their day.
Ask your friend how they feel about receiving these types of texts and for permission to send them before deciding to do so.
12. Say “I love you”
Don’t be shy or embarrassed to tell your friend how much you love them and what they mean to you.
Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to express your emotions especially when you didn’t have this type of relationship in the past. But the moment you say these magic words, they have the power to transform your friendship in an instant.
13. Purchase a piece of jewelry
Acknowledging that your friend is dying can be tough. If you need a way to start the conversation as you set about saying your final goodbyes, consider purchasing a piece of jewelry that reflects the meaningfulness of your friendship. You can find a large selection of memorial jewelry online and can usually customize the pieces with names, dates, and even photos.
You can present this to your friend at their deathbed with a promise to remember them for the rest of your life. You can inscribe the jewelry with a special death of a friend quote that you selected especially for them.
14. Pray together
Saying goodbye can incorporate time for comforting prayer where you each pray for the other.
You can talk about death from a spiritual perspective as you discuss what death means to each of you. You can also explore your beliefs regarding the afterlife.
Post-mortem tip: If you lost your friend too quickly to be able to see or talk to them, let us guide you through what to do when you didn't get a chance to say goodbye.
What Can You Write in a Letter or Card to a Dying Friend?
Writing a letter to someone who’s dying can have a cathartic effect on both the author and the recipient. Letter writing is both therapeutic and healing and is a form of self-expression that can open the door to meaningful conversations and finding closure after a traumatic or life-changing event.
Putting words onto paper allows emotions to flow while releasing painful feelings that help in the healing process. Here are a few things to consider writing in a letter or card to a dying friend when you're unsure of what to say.
15. “You changed my life in the following ways...”
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of your friend or others who might read the letter or card you send. Lasting friendships are built on the foundations of truth, respect, and honesty. Your friend may need to hear how they made a lasting impact on your life to help them find meaning in theirs.
Your words help build a lasting legacy in how your friend and others view them. Your words may have a deeper impact than you realize as your friend struggles with facing the end of their life.
16. “I’ll always remember how you made me feel when…”
Do you have a personal story that you’ve never shared with anyone of how your friend made you feel? Whether the memory is good or bad, sharing your account can heal you both and may help strengthen your bond.
Perhaps you were too embarrassed to share with your friend a story of how their words helped you when you were facing an especially trying time, or maybe what they said deeply hurt you and left you emotionally scarred. Sharing your thoughts lovingly and respectfully allows you to talk about them and clear the air.
17. “These are the ways you’ve made an impact on others…”
Sometimes we take for granted how our actions have the power to affect others. Whether we fail to realize the contributions we make in the lives of our friends, families, and communities, or we’re simply modest about them, it’s always gratifying to hear someone else speak of our virtues.
Make it a point to let your friend know how they’ve impacted the lives of others, even in minor ways. Your kind words can help them out of deep despair or get them through their sorrow and loneliness.
18. “I’ll miss you, and this is how I plan to keep your memory alive…”
The deathbed promises we make to our friends and loved ones may not always come true, but the thoughts and intentions behind them are what give a dying person hope that everything will be okay once they’re gone.
When writing your letter, be as detailed as you can to paint a picture for your friend of how you plan on healing from your pain and moving forward in life. If you’ve found a way of adding meaning to your friend’s life and legacy, tell them how and why you’ve developed those thoughts and ideas. Your words will give them something to hang on to as they transition to the end of life.
Saying Your Final Goodbyes
When faced with saying goodbye to your friend for the very last time, you might expect a flood of emotions to consume you. As the reality of their impending death hits you, you may find it difficult to function and carry on with your daily routines.
While it can be a very sad time for both of you, it can also be a poignant reminder of the beautiful times you shared.
Still looking for more ideas? Read our guide on how to creatively honor your friend when they die.