What To Say When Someone Is Dying

what to say when someone is dying
When someone is sick and expected to die soon, you have an opportunity to comfort them. express your love, and perhaps air what has been unsaid. Knowing what to say when someone is dying can be difficult. You should take their lead as to how they want to talk about death while telling them how much they mean to you.

When a friend or family member has a terminal illness, it can be scary for many reasons. As you are personally processing this impending loss, knowing what to say or do is not easy. However, this fear should not keep you from visiting someone you care about as they are dying. Here are some clues on how you can approach both the dying friend and their caregivers.

What to say to someone who is dying

How Do You Know When Someone Is Dying?

There are many ways you might find out that you have a dying loved one or friend. Sometimes they or a family member might tell you. Or, you might hear that someone is receiving treatment for a significant health issue and you anticipate that their condition might be worse than the family is letting on.

Certain words to give you clues that they are dying. For example, if you hear that they are receiving palliative care, you know that only those with a serious illness that requires medical support receive this type of assistance. While it does not always indicate their impending death, the end of their life might be near if their condition worsens.

Hospice care is usually end-of-life care that offers suppors to both the sick person and their family. A hospice care provider can either offer their health care and other services at a private home or at a hospice facility. When you hear that your friend is a hospice patient, you know for sure they have a terminal illness.

Enjoying time with your dying friend

How Do You Comfort Someone Who Is Actively Dying?

Being around a dying friend makes some people nervous. Some things to prepare yourself for include realizing that they may not look or act like themselves. A terminal illness could result in anything from weight loss to puffiness that looks like weight gain, to difficulty talking to memory loss. Comforting someone at the end of their life can make people nervous.

When you go to spend time with someone who is dying, just try to be yourself and focus on the person you have known, rather than the state they are in. Follow the lead of the person. Do they want to talk about old times? Then do that.

If they are afraid of dying and want to discuss that, you should try to roll with it. As difficult as it is to have some of these hard conversations, if your friend or loved one wants them, you need to.

When my mother-in-law was dying of cancer, she wanted to tell me her wishes for a funeral. I did not want to hear it because we were hopeful she would be with us for a long time to come. She insisted I listen because she did not want to tell it to her only child, my husband. When her last days came, she took my hand and asked if I remembered everything she wanted. I did. I am so glad I listened and had that difficult conversation.

Should You Get Old Hurts Off Your Chest With Someone Who Is Sick And Dying?

In even the best of relationships, there may be problems that lay under the surface for years. Should you address those old hurts to free yourself? Should you intervene to try to make things right when the dying person is alienated from her children or other family members?

These are difficult questions. You must ask yourself is why you want to say the things on your mind. If you think that the person who is sick and going through the dying process needs to hear the words, by all means try to say them. Maybe you can bring peace to others by airing the grief.

Has the person wronged you? Then you should probably let that go unless they bring it up.

When you visit the person, if they start to apologize and want to discuss a past issue between the two of you, it is okay to follow their lead. Just analyze in your own heart what your motive is for things you want to say. This visit should not be overly long and intense; the goal should be for both of you to feel a sense of peace.

Father is dying

Are There Things You Should Not Do Or Say?

There are things you should not typically say to someone who is dying.

  • Don’t Ask: How are you? Sure, you typically say that to someone who is sick. But asking how they are is really not very sensitive.
  • Don’t Assume: Do not presume to know how someone else is feeling, especially a dying person.
  • Don’t Focus on the Illness: Remember that your friend or family member is a whole person with a plethora of experiences prior to their illness.
  • Don’t Answer Your Phone: Turn off or mute your cell phone during the visit. Focus on the person in front of you.
  • Don’t Stay too Long: The person is likely very tired. Read their cues to determine what their stamina is in regards to the length of your visit.
  • Don’t Forget the Caregiver: Assume that your friend or loved ones caregiver needs support.
  • Don’t Wait to Be Asked For Help. Open your eyes and see what you can do to help.

What To Say To Someone Who Has A Dying Family Member?

  • I am thinking of you.
  • How can I help?
  • I’m sorry you are going through this.
  • I can see you are struggling. I would like to help by doing (be specific).
  • Do you want to talk about it?
  • Would you like company?
  • Why don’t we take a walk and get some fresh air?

How Do You Know What To Say When Someone Is Dying?

The dying process is unique to every person. When talking through someone as they are reaching the end of their life, there are many helpful tips on topics you can discuss with the dying person.

  • Favorite Memories: When talking to a dying friend, you can always share favorite memories. These can be memories you have together or ones from their childhood.
  • Prayer: If the dying person wants to pray and you are comfortable doing so, you should. You don’t need to be a minister to provide spiritual care for someone.
  • Be Open: Is there a regret you have regarding your relationship with your friend? Be open and honest.
  • Show Appreciation: Have you really appreciated your relationship with your friend or family member? Tell them. It is okay to just say thank you and show your appreciation to them.
  • Say Goodbye: They know they are dying. It is okay to tell them that you will miss them and can’t imagine life without them.
  • Just Listen: Your loved one might be afraid of dying. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.
Helping a grieving friend shutterstock 209723320

What Should You Say To Someone Who Has Lost A Loved One?

When your friend dies, they leave behind a sad family. Finding the right words to use during someone’s difficult time of having lost a loved one is not always easy – especially if you are a grieving person yourself after the loss.

The problem with that is sometimes people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing is that they are so worried, they say nothing at all. There are plenty of things it best not to say, but most people understand that you are making your best effort to comfort than and they appreciate your kindness.

People who are grieving usually do need some type of check in, so either visiting or making a phone call to pay condolences is appreciated and helpful. Just being there to listen is the first step. Saying you are very sorry, or offering to do simple tasks are both excellent things to say.


Pam Berg is a former English teacher with a passion for writing. She has written for many years on a variety of topics and considers herself to be somewhat of a jack of all trades when it comes to writing. Although most of us tend to want to avoid the topic of death, whether it is us or a loved one, it is inevitable. Pam is dedicated to ensuring that as people are funeral planning they have access to a no-nonsense, straightforward laying out of the facts. However, she also recognizes that this is a topic that needs to be approached in a sensitive manner.

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