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Unhelpful Actions Toward a Dying Loved One

Things to Avoid Saying and Doing

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Updated April 03, 2009

Unhelpful Actions Toward a Dying Loved One
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We’ve discovered that there are helpful actions you can take to support a dying friend or loved one in “How Can I Help My Dying Friend or Loved One?” There are other actions you might want to take and certain things you might be tempted to say to help them that could actually backfire.

Thing to Avoid Doing and Saying

  1. Showing Too Much Worry or Pessimism

    You want to show your loved one concern – that you care about what’s happening to them and are worried for their well-being. However, you’ll want to avoid showing excessive worry or pessimism. Avoid saying things like “What are we going to do?!”, “You mean your never going to get better?!”, and “Enjoy every minute now because it’s only going to get worse from here.”. If these saying sound crazy to you, they aren’t that far fetched. I’ve heard well-meaning family members say them before.

  2. Criticizing the Person's Response to Their Illness

    Your friend may not have the reaction that you expect to his illness. You might expect him to feel angry, to be ready for an all-out battle, or that he face his illness with courage and strength. If his reaction is different than what you expected, you might be tempted to question it or criticize him. Instead, try to support whatever reaction he is having and whatever emotions he is feeling. If he feels supported by you, he’ll be more willing to open up and share his feelings.

  3. Minimizing the Impact of the Illness on the Person

    It might seem helpful to say things like “Don’t let cancer beat you!” or “You have to stay active. Keep moving!” when your loved one is feeling the weakening effects of illness. Saying things like this is actually minimizing the impact the illness is having on her. Whatever the illness is doing to her body, mind, or emotional state is real. Try supporting her by saying things like “I know this cancer makes you really weak. What can I do to help?” and “You seem to be really down. Would you like to talk about it?”

  4. Avoiding Interactions All Together

    When you’re not sure what to say or what to do and fear saying and doing the wrong thing, you might be tempted to avoid seeing your friend altogether. Doing so would not only affect your loved one, but might bring on feelings of guilt and regret in yourself. This is a time to nurture the relationship you have, no matter how difficult it might be. Remember that your time together doesn't need to be filled with words or actions. Just being physically and emotionally present, even if silent, can nurture the bond you share.

    However, it’s important to note here that there will probably be times when you need a break. It’s perfectly normal to feel emotionally overwhelmed at times. The best thing to do during these moments is to be honest with yourself and your loved one. Tell him that you’re having a difficult time and need a break. Let him know that you will always be there when he needs you but that you need a little time to nurture yourself.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Dying, Funerals & Grief
  4. The Dying Process
  5. Things to Avoid Saying to a Dying Loved One - What Not to Say to a Dying Loved One

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