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Are you nervous about visiting someone who is dying and don’t know what to say?

Let’s face it, we all fear difficult conversations at the best of times, let alone trying to find the “right” words to say to someone facing death. We want to comfort them, but we struggle with starting a conversation. Worse, we may avoid having any conversations at all out of fearing not knowing what to say. These genuine fears may keep us from appreciating the last days with our friends/family. Fear of not knowing what to say may keep you from appreciating the last days with your loved one.

Although this may be a new experience for you, letting your loved one know that you have been thinking about death can help open the conversation about the end of life. It may be awkward and uncomfortable for both of you at first but talking about it can bring a sense of relief afterward. Consider bringing up a book you may have recently read on death and dying to make the transition into the conversation easier.

Conversations with the dying are much different than conversations with the living. The best advice I can offer as a death doula is to -cue the music- “Let it go”. By this I mean “let go” of your agenda to control or steer the conversation. During this time, make sure to be open with your loved one about their status. If they are ill, talk about how it is progressing and how they feel. Allow them to guide the conversation.

Active listening is very impactful and is probably the best thing you can do when having a conversation with the living or with the dying. Listen and allow them to talk about death as little or as much as they feel comfortable. Let them guide the conversation if possible. They may have fears of their own. They may be experiencing a host of different emotions. Use your active listening skills to support them. Everyone wants to feel that they are being heard.

The second piece of advice I’d give as a death doula, is to trust yourself. It is perfectly permissible to not know what to say. The words will come when they need to. Silence is also powerful, and there is no need to fill the void with meaningless chatter.

If all else fails, here are two things you can use as conversation starters.

1.“My life is better for having known you”. Follow this statement up with specific details that exemplify the impact this person had on you. Share a memory or two that exemplifies your gratitude for their presence in your life.

2."I love you (and/or) I’ll miss you.". It is also very permissible, if not encouraged for you to express your emotions. Show your vulnerability, leave nothing positive unsaid.

In conclusion, when death is near, consider this the last opportunity to have an intimate conversation. Try to figure out how you view death so that you can then have a more open conversation. Be brave and overcome your natural nervousness and go visit that dying person. Trust me- you will be glad you did.

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