As a nurse, I have the great honor of accompanying people during their final moments of life. I’m there to help ease physical pain, provide comfort, hold their hand, and listen to their accomplishments and stories. I’m there to cry with them, laugh with them, and everything in between. Most importantly, I’m there to honor and celebrate them as an individual. I can’t think of anything more rewarding or humbling.
I also have the great pleasure of guiding family members through the difficult journey of losing a loved one. From my experience, not many people know what to expect, what to say, or how to handle such a great loss. It’s a time that can feel dark and uncertain. I’m here to shed some light on how to say goodbye when a loved one is dying.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you can never predict when your loved one’s final moments will be. Make sure to have that conversation as soon as possible. While difficult, it will also be beautiful, cathartic, and full of love.
Start by acknowledging the situation. If your loved one tells you they are dying, it’s best to be honest with them. In fact, patients have told me that it’s comforting. End-of-life is scary and foreign to all of us because it’s a journey into the complete unknown. Spend time reassuring them that you’ll remain by their side and that you love them.
Feel free to share your thoughts and ask open-ended questions, letting your loved one take control of the conversation. Let it flow naturally, and employ your active listening skills. Listen attentively to what is being said, and make sure your loved one feels heard. A good way to do this is by paraphrasing what has been said from a place without judgment. If they have any lingering worries, make sure to reassure them everything is going to be okay.
Some feel-good conversation starters could be “I appreciate you for…” or “I’ve always looked up to you because…” Whatever feels right. Spend time reminiscing and rejoicing in your memories together. Even though it is a sad time, it’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to lighten the mood. Playing soft music and giving a gentle hand or foot massage can also be great tools.
Tips From A Nurse
There is a good chance your loved one may drift in and out of consciousness. Don’t be alarmed, it’s a completely natural process. I would recommend you continue to talk to them, sing to them, or read to them. Many hospice workers indicate that hearing is the last sense to go.
You may also begin to notice physical symptoms, such as changes in breathing or bruising to the skin. This can seem disconcerting if you don’t know what to expect. I would recommend reading some literature or asking a health-care professional to explain the physical symptoms. The more you know, the less scary it will seem.
Lastly, I would advise you to go with your gut. Just follow your instinct. Regardless of any advice you may receive, you know your loved one best. Do what you can to honor them and your relationship together, and be as present as you can.
Life is precious, so let’s make our final moments count.