Senior Center

How to Visit Someone Who’s Dying

By Jan Bolder - February 10, 2014

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When a loved one dies, it can be difficult to know what to say or do, no matter how much we care for them. Keep in mind that efforts should be aimed at making the dying person comfortable, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

What to Say


It may seem instinctive to ask, “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?”, but try asking “How are things?” or “Do you feel like talking?” instead. Give the person permission to do what they want and at their own pace instead of pressuring them to do otherwise.

Another tack to take is to ask them, “What can I do?” By phrasing the question this way, the person knows it’s okay if they say “nothing.” Sometimes, a dying person doesn’t want anything more than to just sit with company nearby, and sometimes they might be up for more. Just ask without imposing your wishes on them.

Don’t Make Assumptions


Just because a loved one is dying doesn’t mean you know how to deal with it. It’s okay to admit you have no idea what to do or say, and it’s okay to feel lost or be a mess. The key is to not push that onto others, especially the dying person. They have more than enough to deal with than to comfort and “fix” others, so just do the best you can.

Show You Care


Truly deep relationships mean that the dying person knows if their friend isn’t there every day at the end, it doesn’t matter because of the history. A dying person can also recognize if people are trying to make amends if they visit every day, which can hardly make up for a lifetime of ignoring them.

When you visit, make the time count. Cry if you need to, be the shoulder for them to cry on, and just try and keep up your relationship as much as possible. It won’t be the same as before, but that’s okay. You’re entering a new phase now: the landscape may have changed, but the same rules still exist underneath.

Things to Avoid


Try to avoid giving the dying person pity; they know they can’t do as much as they used to and they’re only going to be able to do less, and they don’t need reminding of it. Another thing to avoid is being critical and questioning the dying person’s wishes. If they don’t want life-saving measures administered, accept it and don’t try to change their mind. Likewise, if they do want every action taken and you think it’ll only batter and weaken them, accept that they know their own body best.

And as hard as it may be, don’t avoid the person altogether. They’re your friend or loved one and the relationship should survive through sickness and in health.

With a little bit of reading and preparation, the process of comforting a dying person through their last days doesn’t have to be as difficult as once thought.