What Should I Say…
By Marygrace Lomboy, CRNP –
Visiting someone who is dying is not the most comfortable thing to do. What should I say when I walk in? What will that person look like? What if I cry? What if we both just break down? Will I make the situation worse? The entire scenario can be so uncomfortable that some will just avoid it all together. It is scary to many of us because it reminds us of our own mortality. We are worried about saying the “wrong” thing… It is hard to find the right words to express our intense feelings of sadness or impending loss, but by avoiding the visit all together may result in many missed opportunities. Opportunities of love, sharing and growth both for you and the person dealing with a time limited prognosis are possible with just a few moments shared. Yes, it is uncomfortable and very sad to witness your loved one’s failing body, declining health, and weakened spirit, but we must be careful not to loose sight of what that person is and was, and is so much more than their decline and impending death. There are no perfect words to say, but somehow, if you can embrace the moment and look at it with a must broader perspective, it may be less intimidating.
The most important thing that I’ve learned over the years of taking care of people who are dying is to be present and to listen. Listening and just being with them is often times enough. Conversation does not need to take place continuously throughout your visit. Your loved one may be in an extremely weakened state and having an active conversation may be very strenuous at this time. Holding a hand, just sitting or just being there may be just what is needed.
Often times, when we engage a person we ask “How are you”? That needs to be a question with some depth – not just accepting the answer “fine” or “OK”. We may want to ask again and say, “No, I mean how you are really”. And then really listen and listen well.
Showing compassion and empathy to what the dying person is experiencing is helpful. We may feel frustrated ourselves that we can’t change a situation and the feelings of sadness and loss are overwhelming. Empathizing with someone who is dying and saying “I am so sorry that you have to experience this” may be a way to meet that person half way. You will never know what that person is feeling, but we can express that we are sorry for what they are feeling.
Revisiting the past of some happy memories together can lighten up the mood. Remembering shared past experiences and remembering shared times together may be a pleasant bridge to connect you during this time.
Discussing the future is not always an easy task. You may ask, “What will your tomorrow look like?” What ever the answer is, try to be open and accepting of where that person is. Again, you may not need a response to the answer, just listening and being may all that is needed at this time.
I think the most difficult part of the conversation is ending the visit. You can say, “I have to be on my way now, I have enjoyed spending this time with you.” You may want to tell them that you will be thinking about them, or praying for them. This may be the last chance that you get to tell that person how much they mean to you. Don’t miss any opportunities that may present themselves. You may be overwhelmed by emotion upon leaving, but know that the time spent made a positive difference for yourself and your loved one.
You may never realize the impact of your visit on both your loved one and yourself. Although extremely difficult, it may be one of the most memorable, intimate and blessed moments you will experience with your loved one.