How to Say Goodbye to Someone Who Is Dying

April 14, 2022 6 min read

How to Say Goodbye to Someone Who Is Dying

When someone is dying, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. You may feel like you need to do something special or say something profound, but often the best thing you can do is simply be there for them. The words will come to you when you need them, so don’t fret too much when planning what to say.

Those who decide not to say goodbye to their loved ones before they pass away will often carry this regret. Saying goodbye certainly isn't easy, but it's important not to leave anything unsaid. At the same time, certain things are better left alone, as they could cause distress and upset in the final hours of their life. And this can also lead to regret.

Living with regret can make the grieving process much more difficult to manage, and you might carry this with you for the rest of your life. It's far better to say everything that you need to before the person passes away. Here are a few tips on how to say goodbye to someone who is dying.

Don't wait

You might always think you have more time, but this might change unexpectedly. Don't wait to say goodbye, as you could be filled with regret if they pass away. And never assume that something is implied. Make sure you say the big things, like "I love you", "thank you", "forgive me", "I'll miss you", and "you mean the world to me".

If you will be sharing new information with them, you should tell them as early as possible so that they also have time to process this information. For example, if you are asking for forgiveness for something that you have done, you don't want this to be their final thought. Instead, you should give them time to process their own emotions and decide if they can forgive you.

Be honest and open

If the person is conscious, talk openly and honestly with them. They deserve to know what's happening. Don't worry about saying the wrong thing, just say what's in your heart. There is no script to follow, so you can simply say whatever you feel is important.

Perhaps you told them a white lie in your past and you want to let them know before they pass away. This can be a difficult conversation, but it's important that they know the truth. If the person is conscious, try to make a connection with them. Hold their hand, look them in the eye, and let them know you're there for them. This may be the last time you have with them, so make it memorable.

Follow their lead

Some people don't want to acknowledge they are dying right until the end, and this can make it difficult to say goodbye. They might be resistant to hearing anything that sounds like a goodbye because they would rather not think about their situation.

It's important to respect their wishes, but you should also be prepared for the moment that they choose to accept their fate. This can happen suddenly, and then they will be ready to hear your goodbyes. Remember that fear and anxiety can change a person's behaviour, so they might not be acting in a way that you recognise. Try to follow their lead and allow them to shape their final days.

Let them speak, too

While this is certainly difficult for you, remember that you're not the one dying. Try to keep your feelings in perspective and accept that the other person might have their own difficult emotions to unpack. Offer your support, understanding and a shoulder to cry on so they know that can say whatever they need to say before they pass away.

Many people avoid those who are dying because they assume that they will be surrounded by other people, but if everyone avoids them, it can become very lonely. Be present and available while they are dying, even if this means sometimes sitting in silence.

Keep speaking

As a person reaches the end of their life, they might slip in and out of consciousness. While they might not be fully alert, they might still hear your words, so don't stop speaking just because they seem to be asleep. Continue to soothe them with your words, tell them stories, talk about memories you shared or simply update them on what is happening in your life.

Being present is about more than just speaking and listening. Physical touch is also incredibly important. Something as simple as a hand on their shoulder or their hand as they slip away can be incredibly comforting. If you are struggling to say goodbye, you might feel more comfortable waiting until they have lost consciousness before saying your final words. They might not hear it, but you will know that you said it.

It's okay to laugh

Some people lean on humour to help them to cope with difficult situations. Remember that it's okay to laugh and find small moments of joy as you reminisce. Saying goodbye is certainly a sad occasion, but this doesn't mean that you can't laugh. It may help the individual to cope with the situation if things feel a little more normal.

Saying goodbye to someone who is dying is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do, but it's important not to leave anything unsaid. By being open and honest with them, you can help them to process their own emotions and feel loved and supported until the very end. And laughter is a big part of this. When you are dying, the people around you might be afraid to express anything other than sympathy, so being able to laugh about things can be very helpful.

Think about your final words

If you are regularly visiting someone who is dying, choose your parting words carefully every time. If you leave and say something flippant like "catch you next time", and they pass away in the meantime, you might feel that you have wasted your final words. This will stick with you for a long time, so make sure you always choose your parting words carefully.

Don't fret over the little things

There's no need to bring up every small transgression and falling out that has happened over the length of your relationship. If you are both happy to do so, you can let the small things go and just focus on spending time together before you have to say goodbye. You can acknowledge that certain things may have happened between you that may have left some ill feelings by simply saying "I forgive you".

Dying helps to put things into perspective, and you might find that smaller quarrels have less weight once you are faced with the end of life. So, instead of stressing about the small things, focus on the positives.

What to do if you can't use your words

If you are not able to say goodbye in person, or if you just want to make sure that your words are remembered, consider writing a letter. This will be kept safe and can be read at any time. It's a good way to ensure that your final thoughts and feelings are communicated properly. It will also help you to make sure you properly honour their life by letting them know how much they mean to you.

Some people find it too difficult to say goodbye out loud, so they will write a letter instead. If you are divulging information that might be difficult to accept, writing a letter might be easier. However, you should bear in mind that they are not obliged to read it. So if you really want to say something, it's always better to say it out loud and in person, so you know that they have heard you.

Should children say goodbye?

Children might have a harder time understanding what is happening, so they might be sheltered from the situation for their own good. You will know your child best and if they can handle saying goodbye. Not allowing a child to say goodbye or not telling them that a person is dying could lead to resentment and anger down the road.

It's important to remember that every child is different and will react differently to the news. Some might want to be at the death bed, while others might not be able to handle it. As a general rule, it's probably better not to thrust a child into such an intense and emotional situation, but rather let them come when they feel ready.

They don't have to understand that they are saying goodbye forever. You may be able to tell them you are visiting the person and then at the end of the visit, encourage them to say "I love you" and "goodbye". This might be a better option for younger children who might struggle to understand what is happening. Older children and teens might appreciate the opportunity to say goodbye.