How Can I Help My Dying Friend or Loved One?

You can make a positive difference in the dying process

Physician and Sleeping Patient. Credit: Brad Wilson / Getty Images

If you’ve just gotten new that your friend or family member is facing death, your probably wondering how you can help. You might be asking yourself, “What do I say?” or “What can I do?”.

And you might feel down right helpless. What could you possibly do to help someone you love at the most difficult time in their life? Research has shown that there ARE thing you can do to be helpful and offer support.

These four suggestions are usually helpful and positive ways to make a difference. It's important to remember, though, that everyone's needs are different. It's up to you to be sensitive to a friend or relative's emotional needs. Some people who are coping with difficult emotions may need opportunities to vent their feelings, while others will appreciate "normal" chat and interactions. Many people who are coping with a serious illness will find it difficult to spend long periods of time with others, simply because it can be exhausting.

  1. Express Concern

    Letting your friend or loved one know you are thinking about them and are concerned for their well-being is extremely helpful. There is a fine line, however, between expressing enough concern and expressing excessive worry or pessimism. Saying something simple like “This must be so hard for you” or “What can I do to help you?” shows your concern and your support. Becoming emotionally needy yourself can be overwhelming to the very person you're trying to support!

  1. Be Physically Present

    Being physically present means to simply be there, in person. You don’t necessarily have to fill the time with your loved one talking or performing daily tasks for her. Just knowing that you are present can help her feel loved and accepted, just as she is. Depending upon the situation, you might want to watch a favorite movie together, chat about ordinary events of the day, or just hang out.  Being present is a way to ensure that the person who is dying feels cared for and significant.

  1. Reach Calm Acceptance

    One of the least helpful things you can do for your loved one is to continue down the path of denial when he has already accepted his current physical state or impending death. You might be tempted to say things like “Don’t give up!” or “Your not going to let this thing beat you, are you?” While well-meaning, these types of sayings don’t show your loved one acceptance.

    By calmly meeting your loved one wherever he is at in his level of acceptance, you give him permission to feel how he wants to feel and let him know you love and support him just as he is.

  2. Offer Practical Assistance

    You probably want to do something tangible that is helping your loved one in an obvious way – something that yields results. You can do that by helping her with practical things. Do her laundry, clean her house, run her errands, take her to doctor’s appointments. She will appreciate the help and know you care enough to take time out of your own busy schedule to support her.  Even more important, in some situations, is offering help and support to the dying person's family -- often in the form of organizing meal delivery, picking up groceries, answering mail, and otherwise helping to tend to daily needs that may become stressful or difficult.

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    Interacting with a Dying Person: Facing Your Fears to Face Your Loved One

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