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Readers Respond: How Do You Talk With a Dying Person?

Responses: 9

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Updated August 01, 2009

I found that once I planned ahead by making my own Advance Directive and sharing my wishes with my loved ones that I was less anxious talking with a dying person. Confronting the inevitability of my own death and making arrangements "just in case" helped me better interact with my dying patients.

What has helped you talk to a dying person?

What was of interest to them ?

As a hospice social worker I often had little time to get to know my clients. One was a WW II Navy veteran, and I asked him, "where are your medals?" because anyone who was in the military 20 years has some medals. That lead to questions about where he lived, what he did after retirement, and he indicated the desire to talk about people and events in his life. In a 3 hour session we became friends and he was able to express his anger at dying and his belief in continuing in a better place. With friends and family, the mutual support of the other's denial is a hindrance. I have found that the approach of "hope for a miricle but accept reality" helps breal the stalemate, and in time the denial part slowly vanishes. And remember that love can cause pain, but without the capacity to grieve one cannot experience love. Love is the warmth in a cold and uncaring world. Express it, in whatever form is mutually acceptable - words, a warm handshahe, all in honesty.
—Harry_Hightower

Last minutes with my 95 yr. old father

Dad was not a practicing Catholic, hated the church, but was a believer. Hospice notified me that he was dying. He hadn't spoken a word for 2 days before that nite. I didn't know what to say to a dying father. We were alone holding hands & he made me very nervous b/c he just stared at me. To this day & for the life of me, I don't know why I blurted out, "Dad, do you want to pray"? I was shocked, stunned & in disbelief when he said, "Yes, let's pray". I'm an atheist & haven't prayed in 60 yr but out of the blue, I started to recite the Lords Prayer. As soon as I said, "Our Father", he chimed in & completed the prayer w/ me. Thinking that was the end of it, on his own he segued into the Hail Mary. Then what really blew my mind, he said something he never said to me before. He said, "I love you" 3 times. I said it back & hugged & kissed him. End of story. He never made another sound & died 10 min. later. Would this happen had he been awake when the priest visited him days before?
—pennyan

Watching my Mother die!

My Mother had bile duct cancer and fought with it for 2 years with treatment. She had one good year with a clinical trial drug ADZ6244 but then after 12 months of it she did standard chemo which really took everything out of her. She always said the cancer was taking away things from her and she would say to me"it's just one more thing!" She was a fighter but in her last 5 days of her death I never witness watching someone die before and hers was the worst. She was still conscious when I arrived from 8 hours trip for her to see me and hours laters she went to the unconscious mode. Then she suffered welll I don't know and that was my question to why I came to this site. I wondered if she really did feel the pain because Hospice said she knows your here but if she did that means she felt pain. I don't understand this part of death. I do want to add if you get a chance to be with someone when they pass over it could be easier to cope . I was holding her hand when she passed.
—Guest Mindy

How I feel about my death..

Funny thing. As much as I have been able to live over the last 48 years... It seems day by day it is being taken from me. All I have are memories of friends that once were so close to me. Seems now they are fearful to be around me, only God knows how lonely I am. My Believe in God and eternity is all that keeps me going. As each morning that I wake I know it is for Gods purpose and a gift from God...But often I Pray for God to just let me come home and let this pain be finished. My friends have disappeared... I have tried to rationalize this. I know it is awkward for them too, but I sure miss them... I often times find myself hovering over my email as if is capable of bring a word from a friend. Just to be thought of would be so much for me. Sometimes I am even excited to get junk mail. I know how pathetic that is. I am not sure of the purpose during this time for being alone... I used to look forward to mornings. It was my favorite time of the day. Now it is meds and waiting....
—Guest David Bandy

Talking about Imminent Death

Our mom recently died from Pancreatic cancer at the age of 52. My sister and I are both in our 20s, and she felt scared that we were young for her to be leaving us. She wasn't ready to accept her death and suffered more than necessary in hopes that she could hang on for our sake. At some point when she wrote out that she was afraid of how we would manage, we told her what I think was somewhat reassuring without being dishonest. We basically said that as her children we expected to be faced with her death at some point, and that was out of our control. We had always hoped/assumed it wouldn't happen for another 20 years at least, but we could do nothing about that. The only thing that was within "our" collective control was trying to ease her suffering as much as possible, and if forcing herself to hang out when she just couldn't take it anymore was prolonging the suffering, it wasn't worth it. I think this somewhat put it in perspective.
—Guest AS

father passed

I lost my dad due to lung cancer November 13, 09. 13 days after i got back from NTC(Im In Military) At 0915 friday the 13th I got a call from my wife that I need to come home, I was like well babe the Army just isnt going to let me come home, then she told me the news. At first it didnt hit me, until I saw my mom, (Her and my dad was married 27 Yrs) and It hurt a bit. But when I went to Hospice in Savannah, GA.( My dad wanted to go cause he didnt want my mom to find him at the house when she got home from work) I got there and saw him one last time I broke down hardcore style, I kissed his forehead and told him I was sorry I wasnt there at the last times of his life. He was 59 yrs old, hospice said that morning he woke up at 840, asked to take a shower and eat breakfast, and they said they went to get breakfast(only took 5 mins) and when they came back he passed. Just like anyone that has lost someone to cancer, it was hard. I feel guilt for not being there his final minutes.
—Guest matt

Much as Usual

My 95-year-old dad is failing. He may pass very soon. I talk to him about good, old memories and current events. I treat him as I would if he were merely sick. He has memory problems so I tell him the day and the time. I know my dad's mind is still working, so I never speak to him as if he were dying. I tell him I love him, everyone in the family loves him; I tell him I know he's feeling unwell; I commiserate with him. There are many people from his past that he's always told us (5 children) about. He enjoyed remembering all of the fun things he's done in his life. I know the stories well, so I try to take him back to those times and places. I hope I'm doing the right thing. I do what comes naturally and try to gauge his response. I sound as if I'm an expert in hospice care, which I am not. My Dad been on a slow decline for two years and today he took a very extreme turn fir the worst. I love him so much and I let him know what a wonderful person he has always been. May you Find Grace
—Guest M Gussick

True Confessions and Funny Stories

We had requested our minister give our parent the last rites, which turned out to be the day before passing away. After the service was completed, the minister suggested it was a good time to tell any stories our parent had never heard before. We spent a while with 'true confessions' and funny stories. We had a good laugh at the stories we told, and it made the remaining time with our parent easier.
—Guest marye

talking to the dying

when my daddy died, i was there. i felt it the moment he was leaving. it was as if someone had ripped a part of me out. i told him all the things i thought. i loved him, he was the best daddy i could've ever hoped for and that i knew he would be in a better place with all those whom he'd lost. he nodded at one point as if he understood and it was his final act before he departed. i was torn between watching and looking away as if not looking would halt the inevitable. i wanted him to be at peace,but couldn't imagine life without him. i am thankful for every day i had every moment i took to spend with him. not one day goes by that i don't think of him and feel a longing to see him again. i know he is in better hands now, but no one was as close to me as he. i love you so much daddy. and always will. that's what i said.
—Guest missy

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