Kids Meet a Terminally Ill Person | Kids Meet | HiHo Kids
How to Talk to Someone Who's Dying
Talking to someone who is dying is never easy. The most important thing is that you offer your love and your presence instead of worrying about how to fill the silence or how to say the most perfect thing. Though spending time with someone who is dying is emotionally difficult and overwhelming, talking to that person may not be as hard as you think and it may even give both of you time for honesty, joy, and shared love.
Knowing What to Say
Be honest while being kind.You don’t need to pretend like your loved one isn’t dying, or even act like things are looking up when they’re not. The person you’re with will appreciate the fact that you’re being honest and open and won’t want you to act like nothing is wrong. That said, you should still treat your loved one with kindness and make sure to be sensitive to his or her needs. You may be at a loss for words, but when you’re in doubt, make sure you say something that makes your loved one feel better, as much as that is possible.
- Some people and cultures are uncomfortable talking about dying. If your loved one feels that way, avoid discussing death.
Ask how you can help.Another thing you can do when you talk to your loved one is to ask how you can make the day easier. This can mean running some simple errands, making a phone call or two, or even getting a snack for the person. Maybe your loved one wants a hand massage or just to hear a funny joke; don’t be afraid to ask about what you can do to ease the pain. Your loved one may feel like asking you to help out even more would be a burden, so you can take the initiative and ask yourself. If the person really doesn’t want help, accept it and move on.
Don’t bring up hurtful topics.While you should be honest and open with the person who is dying, you can also hold back when it’s necessary. Sometimes being too honest will only lead the dying person to feel your pain and to feel a loss of control because he or she can’t do anything to stop it. If your mother asks you if you and your brother are still feuding, for example, it may be best to say that you’re patching things up even if you’re only just working on it; in these cases, offering a bit of relief may be better than the brutal truth.
- When you look back on these white lies, you won’t regret telling them. However, you may regret being too honest when the moment would have been better if a white lie was given.
Take your conversational cues from the other person.You may think that everything has to be solemn when a person is dying, but your loved one may have other plans. Maybe he or she just wants to spend the final days laughing, talking about college football, or telling hilarious old stories. If you’re trying to make everything serious, then the dying person may wish you could change the topic to brighten the mood once in a while. It's okay to make jokes, tell the story of a funny thing that happened to you that morning, or ask if your loved one is in the mood for comedy. Lightening the mood can bring some joy to the tense situation.
Keep talking even if there’s no answer.The sense of hearing is often the last sense to go when people pass away. You may feel like there’s no sense of talking to the person if he or she is in a coma or just resting, but your loved one may very well hear the words you’re saying. Just the sound of your voice will bring peace and comfort. Say what’s on your mind, even if you're unsure if it will be heard. Your words alone will make a difference, even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t respond right away or may not be able to hear you.
Know what to say if the person is hallucinating.If your loved one is reaching the very end, he or she may suffer from a hallucination due to medication or disorientation. If this is the case, then there are two things you can do. If the person is seeing something unpleasant and is afraid or pained by it, you can gently try to coax that person into reality by saying it’s not really there; but if the person is seeing something pleasant and seems happy about the vision, then there’s no sense in telling the person that he or she is hallucinating; just let the person be comforted.
Knowing What to Do
Don’t feel pressured to say the perfect thing.Many people feel like they should say the ultimate right words that show their love for the person who is dying while bringing peace. While this is a nice thought, if you spend all of your time trying to form the perfect words, then you may find yourself at a loss. It's more important that you just start talking without feeling too self-conscious, and make it clear how much you love and care about the person.
Listen.You may think that the best you can do for a dying person is to offer words of comfort, but in fact, sometimes the best thing you do is offer a listening ear. Your loved one may want to reminisce about old times, talk about his or her thoughts about the end of his or her life, or even laugh about a recent event. You don’t have to interrupt or offer wisdom or your own thoughts. It's okay to just make eye contact, hold the person’s hand, or just be there in mind and body.
- Make eye contact or hold the person’s hand while he or she is talking. You don’t have to say very much to show that you’re really listening.
Stay present.You may be worrying about whether this is the last time you’ll get to talk, whether it’s the last time your loved one will call you by your pet name, or whether you’ll ever be able to laugh with the person again. Though it’s natural to feel this way, you can save these thoughts of for after you end your visit with the person, so you can focus on being there, enjoying every moment you have with the person, and not letting worry keep you from being fully engaged.
Try to hold back the tears sometimes.Though it’s likely that you feel overwhelmed by sadness, regret, or maybe even anger, you can’t show this face to the dying person all the time. While you shouldn’t lie and act like you’ve fully accepted what’s happening, you shouldn’t talk to the person with puffy eyes and an inconsolable spirit every time you see him or her, or you may be dragging him or her down. Work on bringing joy and optimism to the person when it’s possible. Your loved one already has enough going on, and offering you comfort about his or her impending death all the time may not be part of the agenda.
Remember that actions can speak louder than words.While talking to the person and being there to listen is important, you should also remember that what’s most important is that your actions show how much you care. This means visiting as often as you can and checking in when you can’t. It means watching movies, looking through photo albums, playing cards, or doing whatever you and your loved one like to do together. It means showing up when you say you’ll be there and demonstrating your love through everything you do.
Knowing What to Avoid
Don’t wait until the last minute.You may have complicated feelings about the person who is passing away, and your relationship may not have always been so perfect. Still, it’s better to talk to the person as soon as you can before it’s too late. When a person you care about is dying, even if you have a difficult relationship, it’s not about settling the score or getting the record straight, but about being with him or her in a time of great need. If you wait too long to talk to the person, you may miss the opportunity altogether.
Remember to say “I love you.” You may have complicated feelings toward the person and may forget to say these most important words. Even if you’ve never said them before to the person or haven’t said them in years, it’s important to get these words out while you still have meaningful time with the person. You’ll regret if you don’t find the time to say it. Stop looking for the most perfect moment to be honest and just be true to your feelings.
Don’t offer false assurances.It’s tempting to tell a dying person that everything is going to be fine. The person will generally be all too aware of his or her physical state and will appreciate the fact that you’re offering your support without trying to sugarcoat anything. Focus on just being there for the person instead of offering false hope when the end is very near.
Let them know happy news.Your loved one still cares about you and wants to know about your life. Sharing the good parts of your life with a person who is dying will make him feel happy to be a part of your life. Besides, if the person is leaving this life soon, he or she will be comforted by the thought that you are in a good place in your life.
Avoid platitudes.Though you may not know what to say, try not to say something like, “It’s all in God’s plan,” or “Everything is meant to happen for a reason.” Unless the person is deeply religious or uses these words him or herself, this kind of talk can be a bit frustrating. It can even make it sound like the person deserved to die and to suffer for some reason and that there’s no sense in fighting it or feeling angry. Instead, focus on being in the present with the person instead of reasoning why the person might be dying.
Stay away from giving advice.If your loved one is just days or months from death’s door, then this is not the time to give unsolicited medical advice. Your loved one has likely tried everything and considered all options, and this kind of talk is only frustrating, hurtful, and rude. He or she just wants to be in peace at this point. Suggesting other health options will only lead to stress or anger.
Don’t force the person to speak.If the person is feeling really tired and just wants to enjoy your presence, then don’t feel forced to make conversation. This is different from trying to cheer up a sad friend, and your loved one may be physically and emotionally exhausted. While you may be wanting to have a conversation or you may think that talking is preferable to silence, let your loved one decide whether or not you should speak. You don’t want to force him or her to use so much energy during such a trying time.
QuestionWhat if you happen to be there right as the person is dying?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAs passing on can be very disconcerting, it's important for the environment surrounding the dying be peaceful and safe. Reassure him, and continue to interact with him as if he weren't in the middle of passing. There will be plenty of time to mourn, so remain strong and enjoy the last moments with the person.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I'm gone for two seconds and they die during that time?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt's okay. People often wait to die until loved ones have left the room. Try to focus on the fact that they went peacefully, when they were ready.Thanks!
QuestionDoes this work with dogs?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you can talk to dogs who are dying too.Thanks!
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