What do I say to the dying?
In a recent television interview I was asked, “What do I say to the dying?”
I suggest that we can simply ask questions to gain a better understanding of who they are, what they are passionate about, and what matters most to them. I wouldn’t worry about saying the “right thing.” Dying people want to be treated normally. Share with them how they have enriched your life. Be honest and authentic. It’s ok to let them see your distress and fears. I also offer the conversation starter concepts in The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Byock, “Please forgive me, I forgive you, I love you, and thank you.”
Judith Johnson wrote a beautiful article for the Huffington Post recently about what not to say to the dying. I’d like to share some of her wisdom. Don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.” The dying may receive this as a gesture that they are at fault for their disease. Don’t say, “Everything will be ok.” This can be unkind because the dying know this is not true. Avoid, “Be strong, you can beat this.” This is futile, especially if they can’t beat it. This well intended statement doesn’t allow them the space to face or express their fears. Remove, “It’s God’s will” from your death bed vocabulary. This could imply that our loving God doesn’t love them.
Sometimes silence is the best. Quiet and stillness are very uncomfortable for some people to maintain because we are a culture of doers and fixers. We want to say the right combination of poetic articulate words that will make it all better. There is powerful medicine in quietly holding hands.
To purchase a copy of my new book: Enduring Love – Inspiring Stories of Love and Wisdom at the End of Life, please visit: www.enduringlovebook.com