Talking to someone who is dying

This is not easy. It means acknowledging that life is coming to a close and there may be strong emotions.

Most people who are dying know it.

Some may be more at peace with this knowledge than others.

Some may experience a range of unsettling thoughts and emotions. Not being able to address these thoughts and emotions may lead to the dying feeling alone and isolated.

They may also want to say good-bye, seek forgiveness or reconciliation. They may have wishes and instructions to convey.

If they notice that you are uncomfortable or are unprepared to talk about such matters, they may not open up.



  • Work with the team of care professionals to identify and address any emotional distress or concerns over pain and suffering that your loved one may have.
  • Stay on the topic of dying when they choose to talk about it. Be attentive as they share. Give them your time. Be affirming in your responses, nodding in acknowledgement.

Your loved one may say something like this …

You may be tempted to respond like this …

Try this instead …

“I don’t think I am going to make it.” “Don’t worry, you will be just fine.” “It must be hard to come to terms with how things are going.”
“When I go, can you…” “You are not going to die. You must fight this.” “What about this that worries you?”
“I will do what I can to…”
“The treatment is not working.” “There must be something else we can do.” “I will be with you even when we have done all we possibly can to treat you.”
“I don’t think I can face this.” “Don’t give up!” “It’s tough enough. What would give you some comfort and strength at this time?”
  • Be respectful and patient if your loved one is not prepared to talk further.
  • Be open to share a deeper conversation that may involve recounting memories, seeking forgiveness and expressing gratitude. If there are regrets from the past, you can look for fond memories or past achievements to validate your loved one. If they are anxious or afraid, try to understand what they are worried about.

“Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you.”
“Thank you.”
“I love you.”

“Comprising just eleven words, these four short sentences carry the core wisdom of what people who are dying have taught me about what matters most in life.”

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