For many people who have faced saying goodbye to a dying loved one, it can feel impossible to figure out the best way to do it. It may even seem at times that there is no right way. The process can become so daunting that it can be tempting for some in this situation to try avoiding it altogether.
The problem with avoidance is that it can lead to deep, lingering regrets after the fact. There are ways to say goodbye even when you don’t know what to verbally say to your friend or family member. This article is aimed at shining a light on the various ways you can say your goodbyes gracefully, so that you aren’t left feeling any regrets later on.
The Importance Of Visiting Your Loved One
When you have a loved one who is dying, it probably feels instinctive to visit them. The truth is, though, it isn’t uncommon for people to harbor complicated feelings for the people closest to them, even up until their deaths.
These difficult feelings can be a real struggle around such detrimental times, and the emotion of it all can even add fuel to the fire of any negative feelings they may have kept locked away over the years.
Nevertheless, there are some strong reasons why you should be sure to make a visit or two to see your loved one before they pass away.
A Show Of Support
The most obvious reason you might want to go and see your friend or family member is to provide them with mental and emotional support. This time in their life is the most vital for having familiar support surrounding them. It’s a time when they may be thinking about things they never had to consider before, such as past regrets, spirituality, and more.
If you’re in need of ideas on how you can provide them with support, you might consider giving them some of your time so that they can talk to you about their feelings. If possible, you could suggest taking them on a trip to help them on a spiritual journey.
You could also create a video for or with them on their life that they might want to distribute to their children or future generation. Writing a book of memoirs might be another way to help them process their life and memories along with any negative memories or feelings they want to let go of.
Tackle Unresolved Issues
A lot of people tend to have a few unresolved internal issues by the time they reach their death beds. It’s a natural process to go through, and it makes sense—people tend to start reflecting on their life when they realize it’s now ending. They begin to analyze the whole of it, remembering things they didn’t do that they wish they had.
This is a time when they could really use the love and reassurance from their close friends and family. Helping to either assist them with their unfinished business and tie up any loose ends, or instead maybe helping them to reach a sense of peace and closure on those issues will have a big impact on their state of mind and emotional wellbeing.
When Their Issues Involve You
It’s not easy hearing that someone resents you, no matter what the reasoning. As human beings, we naturally tend to take such news as a hit to our ego.
However, when someone you care about is on their death bed it’s more important than ever to keep the focus on their feelings. Don’t let yourself feel too victimized. After all, this is their time to work through their grudges so they can make their peace with their life.
Keep an open heart, be receptive to any apologies they want to make, and be ready to try and forgive. Similarly, make sure you are open to listening to anything they have to say without judgment or argument. Try to maintain a healthy communication during this time so you can have the best possible visits with your loved one.
A Source Of Comfort For Negative Feelings
Visiting a loved one that is dying and helping them to process any negative feelings can go a long way to easing emotional discomfort. Sometimes, just acknowledging their feelings and being a presence is enough.
Anxiety & Depression
Some of the negative feelings people experience can often include less than pleasant mental afflictions like anxiety and depression. Even in the prime of life, these feelings can be detrimental to a person. Reaching one’s end of life can add a whole extra layer of dread to their anxious and depressive states.
Anxiety shows itself through symptoms like extreme nervousness, fear of the unknown and even a feeling of dread. Signs of depression include prolonged sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of joy in any activity.
Even in the end of life, depression and extreme anxiety aren’t things that should be suffered through. It may help to reach out to a counsellor that they can talk to if this is something they are comfortable with.
Guilt & Regret
Someone who is nearing death will likely experience some feelings of guilt and regret. It’s a common emotion to feel at such a time.
Death has a way of making people face their past, and their lives as a whole. Therefore, it’s easy to fall into patterns of thought that focus on what they have or haven’t done, words they’ve spoken to others, situations they wish they would have handled differently, etc.
The important thing at this time is to redirect your loved one and remind them that the past should not be dwelled on. Do whatever you can to help them reach a sense of peace and acceptance regarding any feelings of regret or guilt they may be weighed down with. Tell them to focus on giving themselves a little mercy and self-love—everyone makes mistakes.
They can’t change the past, but they can make apologies and come clean about whatever is weighing them down now. Keep their focus on the present moment, and what really matters now.
Anger is an expected and understandable emotion to feel when someone is nearing the end of their life, especially if they weren’t ready for it. As their loved one, unfortunately, that anger may get misdirected at you.
It’s natural to express one’s feelings most openly with people we are closest to, which is why our closest friends and family often feel the brunt of our frustration. We know they will be most understanding and forgiving, so we vent at them the most.
The best way to handle this as you stand by their side is to be patient, try not to take it too personally, and re-direct their anger in more productive directions. Encourage them to channel their most passionate feelings toward meeting their final goals of life.
It might also help to remind them that the cause of their death is the true source of their anger, not their loved ones who are surrounding them.
Fear is a very normal emotion to experience at the end of one’s life. Many people have a fear of the unknown and death and what lies beyond.
This ultimate form of the unknown is difficult in the best of times to comprehend and even harder when you are facing your own death. Faith is usually what helps people through such uncertain times, but if your loved one isn’t a religious or spiritual individual, there are other ways of coping with fear and uncertainty.
Sometimes, talking to those closest with them can help. Try just being there to listen whenever they seem to need it. They might also benefit from talking with a counsellor who is accustomed to talking with patients nearing their end-of-life stage.
This is another very common feeling to have during this tragic time. If someone is essentially awaiting their own death, they will likely be experiencing some forms of grief.
They will be grieving the life they had planned on having, and that’s often the hardest part. Human beings naturally adhere to the ideas we have about the way things should have gone, and realizing one’s life is ending altogether is a big idea to have to accept.
Grief could also come from the changes one might be feeling, such as with their relationships. They could be feeling a sense of distance from their loved ones struggling to accept what is happening; they might also be grieving the loss of routine they were used to, or the interests they used to have. Ironically, much of the loss is felt before someone actually dies.
The best way to help them cope with these feelings is to communicate openly to your loved ones. Help them realize a deeper, greater meaning beyond their own life that can help them make sense of everything that has happened.
Mental Preparation For The Visit
It might be sensible to give yourself a pep talk before diving into your visit with your loved one. These interactions obviously hold more meaning than any other since you know it’s one of the last times you may see and talk to this person. You may want to be mindful of any topics you want to avoid; similarly, you will likely want to make a mental list of the things you don’t want to forget to say.
Consider The Feelings That May Arise
The first thing you should consider when prepping for your visit is to be mindful of the feelings that might arise during the visit. Think about the things which surround your relationship with this person. Try to be ready for anything still raw that hasn’t been worked through, and try to open yourself up to whatever they might feel a need to discuss for the sake of their own mental peace and clarity.
It might help to stay both open-minded and humbled. If they end up admitting any resentment toward you that has been weighing them down, make yourself ready for that. Be prepared to manage your reaction in a healthy way so that they can get the most out of the visit as possible. Remind yourself not to blame them for any feelings they have, as you can’t control anyone else’s emotions. If they feel it, then it’s very real for them.
How can you stay strong for your loved one? This is a time when they are at their weakest, and you know the best thing you can do is to refrain from breaking down in front of them. You want to be their rock and give your support, but when it actually comes down to it, it can be harder than expected.
However, staying strong doesn’t mean you can’t shed any tears. It’s okay to cry with them, hold them, and tell them your feelings. One thing that helps to maintain your strength is positivity. Keeping your own mental space from being tainted by negative thoughts is the best way to be strong for your friend or family member.
Just because you want to keep your loved one positive and happy doesn’t mean you can’t be honest with them. Honesty is what keeps people genuine, and that’s something a person approaching their final days will crave. They will likely yearn for meaning in everything they do, and in all their interactions. Simply telling them what they want to hear isn’t necessarily the best way to handle the situation.
Be ready to tell them your thoughts and feelings if they’d like to hear them. Be truly present with them, and give them your authentic self. They’ll appreciate it much more than surface-level conversation just for the sake of it.
If you find that praying comforts you, then prayer would be a great way to prepare yourself for your last encounters with your dying loved one. This can help you gather your strength and put your intentions out there, too. Use your faith to ask for help in anything you’re worried about, and gather all the strength you can to prepare yourself for this difficult time.
If you find your spirituality through meditation, you can use it to work through the mental or emotional struggles you might be facing. Giving yourself time to rest your brain can give you more headspace to deal with the ongoing emotions and thoughts you’ll be experiencing.
You can also use meditation to set intentions about what you’d like to achieve in the visits you’ll have with your loved one. Sometimes, our heads get too filled with negative thoughts and feelings that wear us down. Meditation can serve as an oasis where we can reset our mind, recharge our spirit, and shift our perspective on what deserves more of our energy.
It can help realign the things we’ve allowed to stress us out more than they should, and having a clear mind is the best way to prepare yourself for your visit.
Children Visiting The Bedside
Generally, anyone close to the person dying should make a point to visit. Sometimes it becomes more ambiguous, though. For example, if there are children involved, it’s natural to worry that this might be a scary or uncomfortable experience for them. You might think they are too young to understand what is going on.
In most cases, it’s actually better for children not to be kept away from the process. Kids will often create worse images in their heads on what is involved than is actually true. Just make sure you fully prepare them for what they can expect to see, hear, and feel.
Catch them up on the ways the person they care about might be different from how they are used to seeing them. Also, be sure to be open to any questions they have. Regardless, it’s important the child’s decision on whether they’d like to be involved is respected.
When You Can't Visit In Person
It’s possible you may not be able to visit your loved one in person. This could be due to distance challenges or recent COVID-19 restrictions, amongst others.
This might be a hard blow to deal with, but the beauty of technology is that you can have the next best thing—connect on a video chat where you can see them and hear their voice, and they can hear yours.
If they’d prefer, you can always have a traditional phone call, as well. Find out whatever they might be most comfortable with, and go with that option. The important thing is that you are a part of the process and are able to show them you love them.
Choosing The Best Time To Visit Your Loved One
In order to make the most of your time with your friend or family, you should pinpoint the best times to visit them. If you aren’t sure of when the best times are, talk to one of the people caring for them. If they are at a hospital or hospice facility, check the visiting hours. You’ll also want to ask when they will be most coherent and awake, if possible.
If they’re being cared for in their home, it might also be helpful to talk to the nurse caring for them when they might be most awake, receptive to visitors, and when they’ll be in the least amount of pain. This is especially important if you are planning to take children to see them in the case they get agitated when they’re in pain.
You can ask their caretaker when they will be given pain medication so the visit isn’t lost amidst discomfort and distraction.
15 Ways To Say Goodbye
We've put together a list of 15 unique ways you can say goodbye to a dying loved one. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer but if you're looking for some inspiration or ideas, this will get you going in the right direction.
1. Visit Often
At a time when time itself is very limited, it’s important to spend it with your loved one. Prioritize it over anything else except for your own health and that of your family. Your employer or clients should understand and appreciate the impact and meaning that this visiting time holds.
2. Reminisce Together
Reminiscing on your favorite times together can be fun, comforting, and healing for both you and your friend or family member. Even if they seem to want to reminisce on more painful memories, you should allow yourself to go there with them.
This might be what they need the most in order to process everything they’re feeling. Try and be present with them in whatever moment they wish to explore from the past.
3. What Do They Need For Closure?
Is there anything still holding them up? Ask them what, if anything, they don’t quite feel at peace with. If it is something you can help with, do your best to help them reach the closure they need.
Offer practical solutions, and make sure you’re also there to talk or listen if they just need an open ear and heart. Helping your loved one achieve a sense of inner peace can make their final days much more fathomable for them and for you.
4. Approach The Topic Of Death
Feel them out on how much they want to talk about dying. Let them lead the way in these areas of conversation. If they seem keen to discuss it, don’t shy away from it. They might be reaching out for a form of emotional support in an area where they have fears, doubts, or anxiety.
Try to be open to whatever they want to talk about—just keep the conversation in a positive light as much as you can.
5. Write Them A Letter
If you would rather express your feelings through written words than verbal communication, writing your loved one a touching letter would be a great way to do this. You could also consider writing out a poem, a short story, or any other means of telling them how much you love them.
Depending on their condition, you may have to read the letter out loud to them, but this will give it even more of a personal touch. This can be a very meaningful way of saying goodbye.
6. Look Through Photos
You could also both spend time looking through photos together. Looking through old photo albums might be a great way of connecting together because it can start conversation and stories from past times.
Visual reminders can make it easier and feel more real going down memory lane, and it can foster meaningful last few moments with your loved one. Be sure to ask around for photos your other family members or friends might have, and bring them along on your visits.
7. Read To Them
Some people find comfort in hearing the voices of their visitors. They may have a favorite book, or a favorite author that they would like to hear read aloud. This is an especially great activity for those who can’t see or read much themselves, or who have a hard time seeing a TV screen to watch shows or movies they like.
Another option here is to play an audio book that you can both listen to. This would be a relaxing way for you to both enjoy time together in the form of escapism via your loved one’s favorite works of art. It might also be nice for them to have a sense of familiarity by listening to scenes from books they may have heard many times before.
8. Play Their Favorite Music
Music is an amazing way to sooth the soul, and to help people connect. It can be a fun activity when you visit, so make sure to ask them their preferences if you don’t already know them.
Make a playlist of music that will bring them down memory lane, or that will simply cheer them up. You could play them feel-good music, or calming and soothing songs.
The great thing about music is that there is a song for every mood, and a genre to incite every emotion. It has an incredible way of naturally shaping the way that we feel moment to moment, so it’s a great tool to use in your final visits.
9. Choose A Piece Of Memorial Jewelry
Another wonderful way to symbolize your last few visits with your loved one is to get yourself memorial jewelry in their memory. It may give them comfort knowing they will live on in such a beautiful and creative way.
For example, you could bring them a photo engraved necklace like this enchanting gold plated pendant with their photo engraved on the front. If they are opting to be cremated, you could get a piece of jewelry for ashes like this silver messenger of love, showing them how you’ll be carrying them around with you wherever you go.
You might be surprised at how much it would mean to your family or friend to see the ways in which they will be memorialized before they die. Much of the peace people find in the end of their lives is from the way they have affected others. Memorial jewelry is a unique and creative way to show your loved one how much they have impacted you and your life before they pass on.
10. What Scares Them?
Talk to your loved one openly and figure out what they are afraid of. Let them know you’re there to listen and help them work through anything they need help processing. Refrain from any judgments or criticisms and be patient and kind with whatever they tell you. This will give them the confidence to talk through the things causing them fear in their final days. More often than not, talking it out can be the cure.
11. Simply Be There
You might be surprised at how comforting your presence is to them. Showing up inherently symbolizes your devotion to them. It shows how much you care about them, and how much you love them. If you’re stuck on ways to help or show them how you feel about them, it can never hurt to just show up and be there.
12. Hug Often
Hugging is known for being quite healing and actually promotes the release of good endorphins. Those endorphins make you feel happy. According to Pin Health, “When you hug someone, it relaxes muscles, increases circulation and releases endorphins in your body. This can reduce tension and may even help soothe aches and pains.”
Hugs reduce stress and tension for both parties, and they instill a sense of connectedness. What’s to lose? If they’re comfortable with hugging, then hug your loved one as often as you can. Make sure to make it a habit in the last few visits you have with them.
13. Soak In The Moment Together
Try and enjoy your last moments together in whatever ways you can. Eye contact is an excellent way of maintaining a strong sense of connection.
If they aren’t able to keep their eyes open for long, there are other ways of experiencing connectedness. For example, holding their hand or stroking their hair might be of comfort if they seem to crave human touch.
14. Offer To Help However You Can
If you aren’t sure exactly how you can help, ask them. Make sure they know you’re there for anything they need. Again, offer help with practical things they might need done, even if it’s simply helping them with errands.
You might be able to help with their care if they don’t have a full-time hospice nurse—you could assist by administering pain medication or situating their catheter. They might be more comfortable if their skin or lips were moisturized. Little things like these can go a long way in their comfort, which is the most important thing in your last visits with them.
15. Do Comforting Activities Together
Comforting things might include watching a TV show they love or that reminds them of past times, watching a favorite movie, or even smells from aromatherapy oils that can sooth them.
You can try meditating or praying together, too. Find the most comforting activities for them and insist you do them together so they feel supported and loved.
How To Offer Help During This Time
When you’re anticipating the death of a loved one, you may feel a sense of helplessness. Some people find the most comfort in taking action and being as helpful as they can. It can seem as though there isn’t much you can do for them in this time, and that everyone is simply waiting around. However, there are actually practical things you can do to help them.
Unfinished Business And Loose Ends
Talk to the person who is nearing their death. Ask them if anything remains unsettled, or if there is anything you could do to promote more mental peace for them before they depart. They might wish they could have closure and speak to someone they’re out of contact with. They may want to apologize to them about something that happened in the past. If it’s what they want, you could get into contact with that person and facilitate a conversation between them.
Maybe their unfinished business lies more so in the financial realm. They might have unpaid debts they don’t want to burden their family with once they’ve died. Or maybe they owed someone and they would love to know the debt is settled before they pass away. Let them know what errands you’re comfortable helping them out with, and organize whatever you can to help out.
When you’re awaiting the loss of a loved one, it can be greatly helpful to offer your assistance with routine things. You could help out with picking up the kids from school, providing transportation to and from the hospital if needed, taking care of the house, their garden, or their pets, and the like. Ask them whatever would be the most helpful right now.
Often, what they need most toward the end of their life is simply emotional support. Be there for them to lean on. Listen to them and respect whatever they confide in you. Make them feel dignified. These passive acts can sometimes be the most meaningful for a person in their last days.
Should You Have A Vigil At The End?
A vigil is the home wake that is a part of the home funeral. It can be one of the most meaningful and emotional parts of the process you experience during this time. A vigil involves keeping the body in the home from one up three days after their death. Family and friends can connect on a deep level in this time while they process their feelings together.
If you are debating whether a vigil would be right for your family and community of loved ones, consider whether it might provide a sense of healing and connectedness.
A practical way to decide might also be to consider how close or far everyone lives from the home. Would people be able and willing to come to the vigil? Has there been enough notice, and is everyone able to travel if needed? Find more detailed information on the process of preparing a vigil here.
Where To Seek Emotional Support Afterwards
Even if you knew this was coming for quite some time, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. You will still have to navigate the realm of grief, and it doesn’t come with a map. Make sure to reach out for help and support in the ways that fit your needs the most.
Talking to a counsellor/therapist can’t hurt, and may even move your grief along in a healthier way. Don’t underestimate the power and potential usefulness of talking to a professional who knows how to make the discussion productive and meaningful.
This Psychology Today article lays out reasons you might need to talk to a grief therapist. This is a good reference if you’re unsure whether it’s necessary. See also a few resources below through which you might find a grief counsellor near you.
If you aren’t much of a talker, of you simply don’t feel ready to unload your deepest thoughts and feelings quite yet, journaling can be just as healing and refreshing as anything else. Getting your thoughts out on paper can provide us with a sense of release. It can feel like you are truly lightening your load.
Whether you want to get creative with your writing and write in the form of poems, create to-do lists that are aimed toward getting yourself into a better place, taking care of yourself, and the like, or you simply want to write down your thoughts in diary form, they are all a good means of working through your feelings. Anything like this trumps bottling it up inside.
Talking With Loved Ones
Talking can be incredibly helpful. Just venting to someone who is a good listener can be more healing than we even realize until we’ve finally unloaded a little.
Find a friend or family member you can confide in, and talk to them about your feelings. Connecting with others makes coping with life so much easier and more meaningful, as well. Never underestimate the power of human connection.
Saying Goodbye In Your Own Way
Although it can be a difficult thing to process, saying your proper goodbyes to a dying loved one is a meaningful exchange that can affect your own mental and spiritual peace in the long run. The way you handle this experience can determine whether you are affected positively or negatively by the exchange.
This is obviously going to be a difficult time for you and anyone else involved, but being as present as you can in each moment will help you to ensure you walk away from this period without any regrets, knowing you said and did everything you wanted to while you had the chance.
October 27, 2020 by Jeri K. Augustus