Talking to a dying friend might make you feel uncomfortable and unsure of what to say, but your presence and conversation can offer an immense amount of comfort. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s important to consider not only what you’ll talk about, but also how to offer emotional and physical support, as well as just listening.
Follow Your Friend’s Lead
It’s easy to assume that your friend won’t want to talk about his impending death, but that’s not always true. Follow your friend’s lead with the conversation. If he wants to talk about dying, let him. Don’t try to convince your friend that he’s not dying, but help him address any concerns he might have suggests the article “Care for the Dying,” on the Arnot Health website. He might worry about finances, how he’ll die and people he’s leaving behind. He might also talk about events that happened in his life. This can help him resolve conflicts and foster forgiveness explains the article “Talking With Dying Patients,” by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA).
Your friend might ask difficult questions that you can’t answer. One possible question is how long he has left to live. The HPNA article advises you to ask him to tell you what he thinks or how he feels. When you don’t have answers, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know,” and just encourage him to express his feelings. If he asks questions about how he’ll die and what will happen, it’s best to find hospice staff members who are able to answer those types of questions with knowledge as well as compassion points out the article “Facing the Final Stage of Life,” on the American Cancer Society’s website.
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions when you talk to your friend and let him express his. If your friend cries, pushing tissue toward him or just patting his back can signal that he needs to stop crying, explains the article “Being There, How to Help a Dying Friend,” on the Fox Valley Hospice website. Instead, sit quietly and listen until he’s done crying. It’s also OK to laugh if your friend has a sense of humor. You can even encourage laughter through stories or TV shows. Other emotions your friend might feel include anger, sadness, anxiety or fear.
Physical touch can help while you talk to your friend. Holding your friend’s hand, hugging him or just placing your hand on his arm while he talks can all provide comfort as long as he’s comfortable with these gestures. Physical touch is soothing and can help him feel connected to those close to him according to the article “Providing Comfort at the End of Life” on the National Institute on Aging’s website. Just don’t forget to warm your hands first if they’re cold.
At times, your friend won’t need you to talk but just to listen. Listening allows him to share his pain and concerns. When your friend shares stories, don’t chime in with your own unless he asks you. Opening your eyes wide, giving a small nod, looking at your friend and leaning slightly toward him all signal that you are interested in everything he has to say.
Tamara Runzel has been writing parenting, family and relationship articles since 2008. Runzel started in television news, followed by education before deciding to be a stay at home mom. She is now a mom of three and home schools her two oldest children. Runzel holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from University of the Pacific.