Talking to someone who is dying

/Talking to someone who is dying
Talking to someone who is dying 2018-06-17T17:56:23+00:00

Talking to your loved one 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.

Only 20% of people surveyed locally feel comfortable talking to someone who is terminally ill.
Saying good-bye is an important process for many people and they find comfort in having done so.

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.


  • Don’t expect your loved one to be ready to talk about everything important at one sitting.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with one another. Sharing vulnerability can bring two people emotionally closer.
  • Don’t attempt to fill all moments of silence. Periods of silence allow your loved one and you to process what is going on. Other relevant matters may come to mind as a result.
  • Above all, don’t be judgemental or dismissive. Try to listen without imposing your own beliefs.