The two most important things are first, to offer your love and your presence instead of worrying about how to fill the silence or how to say the most perfect thing and secondly, to let the dying person lead. This means, following their cues as to how they want to carry the tone of conversation. They may just want silence and rest, or they may want to fill their last days with jokes and laughter or they may want to be more solemn and reflective. Be respectful of their agenda. This is their time and it is limited.

Though spending time with someone who is dying is emotionally difficult and overwhelming, talking to that person may not be as hard as you think and it may even give both of you time for honesty, joy, and shared love.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Be honest and genuine. The person you’re with will appreciate the fact that you’re being honest and open and won’t want you to act as if nothing were wrong. That said, you should still treat them with kindness and make sure to be sensitive to their needs.

  • Never express anything that could be viewed as judgmental. Stay away from giving advice.

  • Never impose your own religious or spiritual views.

  • Touch is talking too. Sometimes a hand on an arm, shoulder or face conveys as much as verbal communication and is a powerful indication of your presence.

  • Never assume that a dying person cannot hear. Continue conversation as if they were present. There has been much evidence showing that even the non-responsive person can still hear.

  • Appreciate the person’s legacy. Expressing thanks for the positive ways the person has touched your life is a way of letting someone know of his or her lasting significance for you. It contributes to the person’s sense of dignity at the end of life.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to say, “Goodbye”. it is important to end each conversation in a way that will be okay if it is the last time you speak. Casual goodbyes like “See you around,” or “I’ve got to run, so bye for now,” may leave you wishing you had said something different. Your goodbyes don’t need to be mushy. Just say goodbye in a way that lets the person know that he or she will always be important to you. Remind the person again of what he or she means to you. Saying goodbye in a satisfying way can prevent regrets after the person is gone.

You may need to give family members some coaching on the above ways of spending these last days with their loved one. You may gently remind them of the following as appropriate:

  • Asking for forgiveness and in return seeking forgiveness.

  • Sharing memories.

  • Saying “I love you” frequently