Being With a Dying Loved One

Ways to make the last days more precious

If your loved one is soon to die, you both are about to come face to face with the terrible beauty and fragility of life.

First things first: Use the resources in your community and on the


to find knowledgeable and compassionate palliative care for your loved one's physical body. Get some of the difficult practicalities out of the way: Make sure legal affairs are in order, clarify end-of-life wishes, get some relief help if you can, and work toward resolving any past difficulties, angers, or disappointments, and focusing more and more on the love that binds you.

With physical pain under control (often a constantly shifting balance), there are some predictable facts in this course of unpredictable days and nights.

  • You can count on the fact that you are, together, entering a vast unknown.
  • You can count on the fact that this will be an exhausting time in every possible way.
  • There will be great emotional anguish. Dying is very real. There is a certain measure of pain each of us must face in aging and in sickness and in death from which nothing we have done in our lives can spare us.
  • You can count on the fact that this chapter in your life, the end of your life together, will be simultaneously heartbreaking and beautifully real.


Your loved one will be entering, in the end stages of terminal illness, a universally vast, transformative passage that we each experience uniquely and unprepared. Initially, the passage is rough--a chaos of turbulent emotions and insights. This passage does move each dying person, though, into more subtle, soul-healing dimensions where the sacred discloses itself.

And yet, difficult as it is emotionally, what is needed is simple: Be there with your loved one, as fully present as you've ever been. Let him or her share with you the fear and the wonder, the strangeness and the beauty revealed at the end of life. There's no need to have answers...who among us has answers? There's no need to know the way. How could we possibly know the way until we experience it for ourselves, and even then it will be a different way from the one our loved one is experiencing. There is a need to listen and to acknowledge and to enter into as closely as you can all that your loved one is sharing and wants you to understand of this completely unknown territory. You don't need to be an expert--you just need to love.

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Kathleen Dowling Singh
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