How to Say Good-bye When Someone You Love is Dying – By Paula Spencer Scott

Courtesy of | Paula Spencer Scott |

8-9-2015 9-48-34 AMRegrets and Lessons From Grieving Survivors

Saying good-bye to a dying relative or friend — what to talk about, when, and how — doesn’t come naturally to most adults. The irony: All such conversations ask of us, ultimately, is what people appreciate hearing at any time of life: words of candor, reassurance, and love.

Below, those who’ve been through the experience of saying good-bye share what felt right to them — and what they wish they’d done differently.

Lesson #1: Don’t wait until the last minute

It’s hard to say good-bye, but putting off meaningful conversations is perhaps the number-one source of regret. Time and again, families ask Massachusetts hospice nurse Maggie Callanan to tell them exactly when the final hour is approaching, so that they can time their good-byes. This is dangerous, she says, because it’s nearly impossible to predict the final breath. “Dying people have the uncanny ability to choose the moment of death, and it’s not uncommon for them to spare those they love the most or feel protective of by waiting until those people leave the room,” says the author of Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life , who has witnessed more than 2,000 deaths.

“I felt cheated because I was so determined to be there with her — and she died when I ran out to use the restroom,” says a North Carolina man of his mother’s death. “I wish I’d spent less time focused on making sure she wouldn’t die alone, and more time on telling her what she meant to me.”

Dying people want to hear four very specific messages from their loved ones, says palliative-care physician Ira Byock, author of The Four Things That Matter Most : “Please forgive me.” “I forgive you.” “Thank you.” “I love you.”

“Ask yourself: Is there anything critically important that would be left unsaid in our relationship if either of us died today?” says Byock, who’s also director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. “It’s not as if anything you say is wasted if the person continues to live awhile.”

Continue Reading “How to Say Good-bye…”

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