But I Don't Know What to Say...

Though words often fail us when friends or family face a terminal illness, they're often all we have left.


03/09/2012 12:25:57 PM

Just wanted to say how thankful I am for this article. I got word this morning that a friend was given a very bad diagnosis and has been given only about a year to live. And that he wanted me to call him. I was absolutely galvanized and didn't know how to handle it. I came online, found this article, and jotted down some notes. They were such a help during the call. As it turned out, all I had to do was let him talk, as he had a great deal to say. But it was so good to have something to fall back on when I needed to say something loving and positive and calm.


01/23/2012 05:28:27 PM

My name is Joe/ Through many years I have struggled with depression and feeling inferior. I have for over forty years given my life"s hardships to Jesus. He has time and again helped me . Through miracles, and people, who came into my life. I have a persistent faith ,built on truth ,compassion ,and most of all LOVE. So to all peoples, i pray for you.


08/09/2011 04:08:45 PM

As my Mom was facing death, I held her hand over & over again. I told her that when she sees Jesus I want her to go too Him. When she sees that beautiful light, I want her to go to the light. I told her we would be fine, we loved each other, we would care for one another. Some friends sang "What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see" for her. At the end of the song, she shed a tear & she went home to be in heaven w/ Jesus. Off & on, family, friends feel her presence, little things but amazing moments, a litte voice, her words. Her love, her love for us, for the Heavenly Father endureth forever AND we will see her again. I am now in a place to help/support dear family friends who are ready to let a family member go...I continue to pray I will be there for them. Today the song - This is just what heaven means to me - came to me very clearly & strongly. I am not afraid of death, I know where I am going & I find great comfort, great peace in that.


07/13/2011 01:22:30 PM

My husband and I have a friend who has terminal cancer and has gone into hospice yesterday. We wanted to send her a card but couldn't find the right words to say. This website helped a lot. We appreciated reading what others who are facing a limited number of days might feel at this stage of their life. We only want to help comfort our former co-worker. Thanks again for helping.


06/03/2008 10:10:15 PM

I am a 50 year old woman who is Terminally ill. At the age of 42, I started out with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and now to other illnesses and treatment I was informed by doctors and specialists that I now have 1 to 1-1/2 years to live. I have 2 Grandchildren and one of the most loving Husbands in the world. We have only been married 10 months when I first got sick and he has stayed by my side. BUT my 30 year old daughter has written me out of her life. In conclusion, I know what its like to be going thru something I thought would never happen. I came to this website for support and friendship. I believe in Guardian Angels, but have been unable to hear from any of your members on this. I need to learn HOW to communmicate with Guardian Angels. I look for God and them for some kind of reassurance during my low times. I am begging for your help! moe4life


12/02/2006 02:05:48 PM

I believe the description Sylvia Browne gives of Home, in her book, Life on the Other Side. At first I felt parts were over the top but later the details were very comforting. I can visulize both my parents, avid readers, pouring over documents in the great Hall of Records. Both had intense curiousity on earth about the world they lived in. That won't change. And my friends! Being a great grandma, I have lost many. I know we will have great reunion when I get there! I was with my father when he passed and her books gave me great comfort.


01/13/2006 12:16:28 PM

I still believe to this day that the combination of him being given “permission” to let go and go home, along with the power of my friends prayer circle, that all led to him not going to the nursing home and passing on before he had to be transferred I miss him terribly to this day over 9 years later Daddy, if you can read this or know this is here, we all love and miss you. We will see you sometime soon. You were the greatest dad and friend that three daughters could have asked for or wished for! Sue A


01/13/2006 12:15:52 PM

Part 2 The next nite we were called to the hospital – the end was near. He was due to be transferred to the nursing home the next day but he never made it. We stayed at the hospital that nite we got called and he still knew who we each were my mother and I plus a close friend of his who had come when I called to let him know what was happening with daddy. I left the hospital around 11 that nite and the next day while at work I had asked a friend of mine to include daddy in a prayer circle at his church – at 11:00 my friend came up behind me and hugged me and told me the prayer circle had just started at 11:00 – at almost precisely 11:04 my office phone rang and it was the hospital – daddy was still alive, but they told me I had better get there in a hurry. By the time I got to the hospital room he had just taken his last breaths seconds before I walked in


01/13/2006 12:14:45 PM

This is split into 3 posts due to length: Part 1 I wholeheartedly agree with Coqui and the post on July 2nd Telling a person to hang on and stay with us, is selfish we aren’t doing it for the dying person, we are doing it for ourselves. Daddy passed away in November of 1996 he had a series of strokes from September and finally was hospitalized after a second one at home and then was in the hospital until he passed away. My mother was incapable of caring for him and he was all set to go to a nursing home it was his idea since he knew mom couldn’t take care of him due to her being legally blind. I called him on Sunday evening before he passed away and he kept saying goodbye goodbye I told him finally that if he wanted to go just let go.


07/10/2005 10:30:26 PM

I am 55 years of age. I have thought this about dying. Whichever road we take in our health. Dying is but opening a door that God said we all have to pass through to get to him. I figure I owe Him that much for His dying on the cross for my sins and more!


06/30/2004 03:46:46 AM

Jonbog - thanks for posting what to say to a dying person. My 9-year-old niece has had leukemia for the past year and her journey here on this earth is coming to a close. Since she's a child and she's worried about being without her family when she passes over, this is a wonderful thing to say: "A little piece of me is going with you." It's short and to the point, it addresses her concerns, and it is true, so true, so true.


06/25/2004 08:39:31 AM

I lost my dear husband on April 30, 2004. I have been on a leave of absence and go back to work on the 26th of July. I am having a hard time dealing with it. I am only 48. I married him right out of school... we were married 29 years in January. I miss him so much. I haven't packed any of his stuff away. I needed to be off to deal with the legal stuff, that is mind boggling... I feel like my heart has been ripped out. I am comforted to know that I believe that he made peace with the LORD, and is in Heaven. I feel like our time has been cheated.


05/29/2004 01:29:27 AM

My husband passed away two weeks ago today. He was not a saved man. As he was going to the other side, he kept returning to this world. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me "He is not dead yet, tell him to ask Jesus to forgive him." I am so glad I listened to the Holy Spirit, because with just a few seconds left in this life, he asked forgiveness and his breathing, which had been extremely labored and sounded like gargling because of fluid build up in the lungs, throat and mouth was as clear as yours is right now. His next three breaths were easy and clear and then he passed over into Heaven with Jesus. The moral: Listen to the small still voice telling you what to say, it is usually right! Praise God, my husband is in Heaven with Jesus!!


07/14/2003 09:52:44 PM

Death is the only thing that we can be sure of, but it's not the end. When someone is near that stage they tend to search more for meaning. Turn them to Jesus the conquerer of death. Ask them if they believe that He is the way, the truth and the life and the only way unto Heaven. If they say yes ask if they believe with all their mind, soul, and body that He is the messiah that came into the world to die for all our sins and through His death we can find forgiveness. If they say yes, ask them to close their eyes and in the solemness of their peace call upon the name of the Lord and confess their sins unto Him acknowledging their belief and faith that He is who they believe He is and ask for forgiveness. Finish this prayer by asking in the name of the only begotten Son of God Jesus Christ.


07/09/2003 04:08:32 PM

i have been with many people sick and dying,you support them thru their journey,we all died in difference ways,i have gotten in bed with a sick patient dying more than once,you comfort them,sometimes with song always hold them ,and pray, how ever it helps them with their journey,much love,..poe


07/07/2003 03:29:28 AM

The best and most compassionate advice I ever heard given on what to say to a dying person was: 'Just tell them that a little piece of you is going with them.'


07/06/2003 04:30:21 PM

Compassion, respect and openness sounds like a great way to treat everyone, not just those who have received an official death sentence.


07/04/2003 11:40:12 AM

I think it is so sad when people cannot function around a dying soul. It hurts my heart. Once you understand that death is a necessary part of living, it gets easier to help them pass over in comfort. One should never insist that the dying soul should hang on...What they need to hear is that their work on this side is finished and now they get to pass over into the divine and continue their work there. It's a great honour in my opinion...a very sacred honour.


07/02/2003 06:12:00 PM

This is such an important topic. My grandfather is dying from cancer and many of our family members have just stopped talking to he and my grandmother. I've visited more frequently and I find that being honest with him really helps. He's getting so much pressure to "hang in there" and "hold on" when what he seems to need is permission to go when he needs to and reassurance that we really will be okay. Sad, but okay. I think it's also very important to remember that touch is SO important! Hugs, even a hand on someone's arm, can mean so much. Years ago when my mother was diagnosed with MS, a cousin told her that she couldn't talk to her anymore because she didn't know what to say to someone who has an incurable disease. My mom has never forgotten that - I think it was the most hurt she's ever been...


07/02/2003 05:42:30 PM

I would advise anyone that wishes for anything, and this is no small matter, to love thy neighbor as thyself and it will come to you....


07/02/2003 03:06:09 AM

How to Speak to the Dying: Quickly, loudly and in the good ear. Hold hand(s), make eye contact, radiate loving smile. Know God Loves All and cares in the end. It does not matter what you say. Be there with a caring heart and mind.


07/01/2003 11:16:34 PM

kenandeva i can't say for sure what your casual friend might like to hear because we're all different-- but you could just write him a "thinking of you card" that says you'd heard about his illness and that you hope he has a lot of love and support around him. You could also humbly tell him that you don't know what to say, but that you care and you just want him to know that.


07/01/2003 10:31:06 PM

There is someone I worked with over ten years ago. At that time, I was a casual work friend with him. I left the company, but now, 10 years later, I have returned. I never saw that person during my 10 years away. I just learned from another colleague that this casual friend has severe cancer that is getting worse. He has been on disability for quite a while, but has since started working here again, intermitently. What do I say to this person? I don't know them well enough to sincerely say "I love you." Saying "How could I help" seems beyond the scope of our relationship, too, since he has friends and family that are not just "work casual" like myself. I know it sounds selfish worrying what I should say--as though all that matters is whether I am comfortable. But I really would like some advice to help make it less awkard for him and me when I eventually run into him at a meeting or in the hall. Thanks for any advice!


07/01/2003 06:51:50 PM

Having just watched my mother-in-law die a short time ago, I have a few thoughts. Firstly, discussion of the person's final wishes MUST be done, but hopefully before the person is in their last few days of life. Giving the person permission to die is indeed very important. My mother-in-law kept fighting so hard to stay for the sake of her husband that it was tearing everybody into pieces, most of all herself. Only when he gave her permission to go and my husband and I promised to look after him did she finally let go a few hours later. As far as what we can do to comfort---the best thing possible is to try to give them peace of mind and soul, and comfort of body (I cannot say enough good things about Hospice workers!). If they are members of a certain religion, remind them of what that religion teaches about what happens upon death. However, in the end, it's knowing you are loved and having those you love near you that matters the most. Morgan Wiccan High Priestess


07/01/2003 01:53:28 PM

Several years ago I had the honor of spending some time with my elderly aunt who was plainly dying. My mother and my cousin (aunt's daughter) and her husband were there as was one of my sisters. After visitng my aunt and noting how much she was struggleing I asked permission form my cousin to speak to her mother about how she felt. After being granted permission, I asked my aunt was she ready to let go. She replied yes. Asked if she was holding on because of her sister and daughter. Affirmative response. I assured her it was OK to let go. Assured her she would be comfortable and that daughter and sister loved her regardless. A peace decended upon her. Told my mother and sister to give her permission to die. They did. She was very peaceful until she died. She was expected to live afew mare days but she died a few hours later. Too many people will not discuss death with the dying. Sort of like the old story of the horse on the dining room table.


06/30/2003 06:08:55 PM

Im4m2 You just gave an example of how not to talk to a terminally ill person. Don't you think we know all that stuff? This article addresses the comforting of the dying, not on how to make them feel like a burden. turnagain thank you for your kind response. i do talk about death and dying a lot with my family. i've got all my "ducks in a row" (like Im4m2 demands), and am feeling pretty good psychologically and spiritually. Do read the book.


06/30/2003 11:26:00 AM

Please take a momment to consider the ones left behind. Relieve them of the stress of guessing what is right for you. Make a will, appoint a medical surragate(someone to have Power of Attorney and make decisions on your behalf), decide on respirator and feeding tubes. Get your funneral ideas on paper; find out if cremation or burial is desired and where. Otherwise, your family is left to agonize and bicker over what each member thinks you would have wanted. One person needs to have the authority to insure your medical and spiritual desires.


06/30/2003 08:29:40 AM

arual3 - talking and thinking about death is definitely not morbid. I'll make sure to read the book you recommend. Should you feel like it and up to it I'd be pleased if you contacted me: emmerich33@yahoo.de


06/29/2003 05:07:15 PM

my last sentence was not clear. I strongly dooooo encourage you all to read the book by Virginia Morris Thanks and Blessings again


06/29/2003 05:05:19 PM

I guess I'm the first terminally ill person to make a post. Just treat us as if we're still alive until we're not. Also, don't tell us we're being "morbid" if we talk about death. Don't tell us miracles happen. Don't tell us we have somehow chosen this path through karma or sin--and then read: talking about death won't kill you, by Virgina Morris Blessings


06/27/2003 03:06:26 PM

A postscript: thinking now about what is being written here -- perhaps it can help to describe death and more of what has happened to other humans at death. I worked as a nurse -aide for a year with many patients who died. It was 30 years ago and I found death less fearful for my patients than I could imagine. Every one will die; each death is different. Hospice has brought this repeatedly into the awareness of our culture, that knowing death is coming can be a time of preparation and peace, especially if working with trusted companions who will be with the dying individual and the family and help treat for pain. Fortasia in story below will always remember the love in the time she shared with her dying friend.


06/27/2003 02:24:55 PM

I believe and know Fortasia's "answer," (no answer, "just be there for them") is ususually the right answer, maybe for most of our shared crises in life. We never know the right things to say about our deaths. My prayer is I will be received in heaven and that my family will be there, too. It's got good press -- s'posed to be a wonderful place... and sometimes a good moment together on earth, in all kinds of circumstances, is to me a little glimpse of what heaven will be.


06/26/2003 10:04:31 PM

When my childhood friend was dying, we went on a trip to a beach where, when she was married, would vacation every year.She wanted to go to the ocean one more time so badly. When we got there, she looked out at the ocean and was almost trembling, saying over and over again, "I just don't feel right here." At night, we would share a bed, as she was afraid to be alone and as we lay there, she would stay up ALL night staring at the ceiling and saying she did not know how to die and what would it be like to die. The fact that she did not know how to die really upset her. I didn't know what to say to comfort her other than ask her what she thought it would be like and that I think it will be all right for her when the time comes. I believe that when spending time with a dying person, we should just be there for them for when they want to talk and for whatever they might want to say or ask. We won't have all the answers, but just being there and letting them know we love them will help them.


06/26/2003 02:20:21 PM

The article by fran was excellent. Having just journeyed through the abyss of Glioblastoma Multiforme Stage IV with IM4M, my only contribution is to commnicate as often and as much as you can. Use technology for the out-of-town and overseas. Remember, audio tapes are wonderful, since they can be relplayed when its best for the patient. It is also easy to tape telephone calls for playback. My husband was encouraged, consoled and entertained, when he could hear family and friends words, music,children and ordinary life situations. As medical personel remind, the ears are last to fail. Surround your loved one with his music, sacred texts, and your voice.


06/26/2003 02:07:35 PM

I agree with you, MaCara, but I don't know why you're surprised. We are not only "sheltered from intimacy" (interesting phrase--it's going to give me something to ponder for a few days), but we are sheltered from death. Just a quick look at the obituary page will show that the vast majority of people die not at home, but in a hospital or a nursing home. Our bodies are not prepared for burial at home, as was once the case, but in a funeral home. The wake/visitation is most often held, again, not at home but in a funeral home. And on the other side of things, look at how popular culture celebrates and idolizes youth and vitality! We live in a death-denying culture.


06/26/2003 01:37:22 PM

I cannot believe that people need these kind of instructions. Have we become so sheltered from intimacy that we cannot connect with a dying friend or loved one? No wonder so many people act crazy with regrets at funerals!


06/26/2003 03:40:13 AM

Most adults have dealt with a death some time in their lives. With this in mind, you should always remember that when you visit a friend or loved one, do one of two things---preferably, both. Put YOURSELF in that person's position (if you can, by imagining) and most importantly, say what's in your heart. If you don't feel like being "strong", hug the loved one, cry and tell them how you feel inside. This person will then feel that they still have a purpose of some sort, not to mention that you care for them. To visit someone with a terminal illness only to talk about how it rained today, to me, would be no more than calling a psychic hotline. Say what's in your heart. If you do that, you'll get more than love back.


06/25/2003 11:58:55 PM

I'd also like to express my thanks for this article. A few months ago, my mother's friend was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. I knew my mom was apprehensive about what to say or how to "be" around her friend. I searched the net to try to find some resources that could help my mother. While there were several resources for family members of individuals with terminal illness--where legal and other information specific to family issues were discussed--I could find very little general support information for friends. What I could find was fairly terse (do this, don't do that) and didn't provide much in the way of explanations or discussion. Thanks again.


06/25/2003 11:36:05 PM

Well done. Thanks, beliefnet, for this piece. It will be extremely helpful to so many people. You guys are on a roll this week. Keep it up!


06/25/2003 10:11:51 PM

Hi, This subject is so close to me right now. I recently experienced two deaths, my brother's wife,(whom I was friends with before they got together)just passed from alcohol abuse, and my grandfather, from old age. I couldn't really talk to my sister in law, I think I blamed her for her illness, if she only could have controlled herself. Intellectually, I know that alcoholism is a disease, but emotionally it is hard to accept. I couldn't be around her for long. As for my grandpa, I was with him as often as possible, I accepted his passing, I talked to him, kept him clean, loved him. Maybe I judged my sister in law too harshly. Maybe I'm afraid that might be my fate and I don't want to see it. It hurts to see my brother raising four kids alone. Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my shoulders.


06/25/2003 05:30:33 PM

Once I visited a friend whose mother was dying of terminal breast cancer. She left her bedroom and sat beside me, although we weren't that close, she asked me how death would come to her. Overwhelmed by the question, I just replied that she will be all right and I asked her not to think of death. Up to this day I always wonder if I should have been more honest,especially that I am a physician and so was her son.


06/25/2003 03:33:39 PM

I agree, themarirev. I have been a hospital chaplain for 14 years, and what I have learned that the dying most want compassion, as you said, presence, and someone to "say God" with them, whether that takes the form of prayer, sacraments or other religious rituals, or simply a loving, listening, accepting presence. It is about who we are, not so much what we say.


06/25/2003 11:58:40 AM

As someone who has ministered to AIDS patients for twenty years, I find this article to be right on the money. Many times it is not as much conversation as it is comfort. The reality is we all die one day. I find many who do not feel comfort in the presence of the terminally ill is because of trouble within their own mortality. It is only through my work with the dying did I become comfortable with my own mortality and thereby more comfortable holding their hands to to doorway of tranference. It is compassion, not pity, that the dying seek. Pity is a term of separation while compassion is a foundation of togetherness. Rev themarirev.us


06/24/2003 08:08:27 PM

Just a quick book recommendation on this topic: "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche. Regardless of what your feelings toward Buddhism might be, it contains some wonderful and heartwarming advice on relating to and helping a dying friend.