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How To Talk To A Dying Person

One of the most life-changing events some of us will ever experience is to face impending death, whether it is our own or someone we love. The very thought of facing death and preparing for it is scary and many people will refuse to deal with the emotions and feelings that are sure to be present in such a critical time. For those who are willing to overcome their fears and experience the emotions, there can be rewards beyond measure. Here are some guidelines for communicating with someone who is dying.

1. Establish a personal relationship with the dying person rather than avoiding them or keeping a safe distance away. Make yourself available to them when it is convenient and acceptable to them. Talk to them, at the same eye level if possible and don't be afraid to touch them unless they have some communicable disease or precautions against infection - they are usually starved for human touch and contact.

2. Try to eliminate any distractions such as televisions, radios, etc. Let the dying person set the pace for conversation. You may be tempted to chatter idly to avoid silence - Don't! Silence is all right and your presence will speak volumes.

3. The dying person may be very frail and have very little energy. Let them control the length of time you visit by asking them to let you know when they need to rest.

4. Don't place demands on the dying person to accept their death. They may still be in denial. However, if they have accepted it, don't try to get them to deny it. Facing the possibility of death does not automatically assume they have no hope for recovery.

5. Allow the dying person to express their feelings even if they are angry, guilty, afraid, etc. There will be many different feelings present and they may change rapidly. Remember you don't have to answer their questions or concerns - you only need to listen and empathize.

6. It's all right to ask the dying person about the possibilities of their recovery or treatment options. If they want to discuss it with you, they will. If they don't wish to discuss it, drop it.

7. Many times the dying person will need or want to talk to others but not be able to. Ask if there is anyone you can contact for them. Encourage others to visit if the dying person is able to see them. Unfortunately, many of their friends and/or relatives will avoid them because of their own fears and emotions.

8. Encourage them to reminisce. Share happy thoughts and better times. If they have been faithful to God, talk about heaven and how beautiful it will be. Sing their favorite songs or read from the Bible. This is especially helpful if you are unsure of what to say or how to say it. Don't be surprised if it brings tears to you and/or to them. This is a situation in which emotions will run high - expect that and don't fight it.

9. Never, ever pass up the chance to express love or say goodbye. Encourage the dying person to do the same with other loved ones.

10. When in doubt, pray! Before you go, pray! When they ask, pray! Volunteer to pray if they desire and let them know you are praying for them. Pray in faith and in simple words that express feeling. Believe that God has the power to heal them but be willing to accept it if He doesn't. Each time I visit someone who is dying, I am filled with emotions. It is always scary and uncomfortable. But I remember the times I have been there before and the unexplainable joy of helping someone face death with dignity and I know I must face it once more. I am never more alive and aware of God and our need to depend on Him than at this time. Suddenly, the priorities of life are rearranged and I get a clearer perspective of what is important in life.

Dwight Eppler