What to say when visiting a dying person

One of the most difficult moments that we ever had at our hospice was seeing sister Eileen on her deathbed. Everyone in the institution was touched in a big way.

Sister Eileen was the founder of the hospice and was always instrumental in the growth of the place. Seeing her down with cervical cancer in the very building that she had helped set up was just too much for everyone.

The hospice staff were the most affected. Everyday that they came and saw her comatose body on that deathbed was just too much for them. They would cry and drag themselves to work.

Sister Eileen knew all of them by their names, knew their households, visited them when they were out for maternity leave. Her generosity, humour and big heart were outstanding qualities that touched everyone she interacted with.She had seen them in their best and worst moments and in her wisdom, would always counsel people when they wanted to make life changing decisions. She would visit all workers who just had a newborn baby and would give out these little and nice looking hand sewn sweaters for the babies. She was such a nice lady.

When time came, sister Eileen knew that she was dying. She had gone to different hospitals and was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer. Death therefore was inevitable and would happen soon. Throughout her stay at the hospice during her sunset days, she would speak of her death. At one time, she told a caregiver that she had a vision where she saw the Virgin Mary welcoming her to a beautiful home.

This though did not augur well with the hospice staff who were in denial. Their matriarch was facing the west and it was hard to deal with this fact. They would therefore wish that she stayed and voiced the same when they went to see her. It was only later that the superior sister told everyone to speak truth to Eileen because she wanted to hear it.

What to say to a dying person

The passing away of Sister Eileen taught us so much about death and what to speak to a dying person. We of course knew the different stages of grieving since we had dealt with so many relatives whose kin had died in our hands.

But it always strikes differently when it is you saying your goodbyes to your dying relatives, right?

This is what we gathered as what to say to a dying person.

  • Be truthful to them

When your relative is in their last days, do not lie to them or give false hopes. Just tell them what the diagnosis says. Tell them that the doctor has said that they do not have so much time to spend here.

You will of course say it in a nice way. But do not lie. It is bad when you give the false hope or are insincere about the looming death. The dying person will not trust you and your conversations with them lack openness.

  • Say your goodbyes

Once you are truthful, it will be very easy to tell the dying person your goodbyes. Tell them how much you will miss them.

In our case at the hospice, once we were open with Sister Eileen, we were able to tell her how we will miss her. We also assured her that everything would run smoothly at the institution and we would gladly obey the next nun who would come to run as the hospice manager.

  • Say that you loved them

Showing that you love someone and saying it in words are two different things. At times, people want to hear that they are loved and cared for.

On their deathbeds, tell teh dying person that you loved them and will always remember them.

  • Remind them of how good they were

You need to come up with a list of good things that the dying person did and verbalize it in your next meeting.

Tell them of the values that they will be remembered for as well as the good deeds that people will always look back at and remember them.

  • Remind them of special moments you shared with them

If you are able, you could come up with past pictures of special moments that you shared with the dying person and show them these pictures. Remind them of the fun and jovial times that you spent together.

  • Forgive them and ask for forgiveness from them for any wrongs

When you live with someone, there are things that they did that hurt you. You too must have hurt them in one way or the other. When they are dying, you need to tell them that you forgive them. Also ask for forgiveness for the wrongs that they did to you.

This way, they will die in peace knowing that they are forgiven and no one close to them is hurt by their past actions.

Even if they seem not to react or move, they will hear what you are telling them.

  • Touch them and be near them

The one thing that your dying relative needs is touch. Hold their hands, touch their forehead and  be near them. You could also hug or kiss them since this shows that you love them and that you will indeed miss them.

  • Assure them that everything will be right

When someone is dying, they want to hear that everything will go alright. They want to hear that their children will be taken care of. They want their projects to go on as planned and that their property will be shared out as per their will.

Related: What to say to the family of a dying person