What to Say to Someone who is Dying

Conversation starters for when you feel awkward about conversation-starting.
What to Say to Someone who is Dying

We recently shared a guide on what to say to someone who is unwell, and we figured if you found that guide helpful? You’d probably find one on what to say to someone who is dying helpful, too. So here we are – helping you tackle those difficult conversations you don’t (ever) want to have with some super easy conversation starters.

Before you say anything…

Let them lead the way.

It’s important to never assume that your loved one feels like talking about their situation. While some feel comfortable talking about their imminent death, you’ll often find that most tend to avoid talking about the topic all together. Chances are, if they want to talk about their death (or death in general) with you, they’ll bring it up. Let them lead the way, and use your intuition to determine whether you can speak about their circumstances with them.

Provide them with physical support, as well as verbal.

Showing your loved one you care through conversation can be impactful; that is, if they feel up to talking. Sometimes, though, the best kind of support you can show a dying loved one is physical support, like sitting with them while they sleep or watch TV, helping them get into bed, or assisting them while they eat. There are many ways you can support your dying loved one without talking about their death – read our guide on our top 10 ways to support them here.

Go with the flow.

While we’re about to share some conversation starters that may help you when trying to spark conversation with a dying loved one, it’s important to go into every interaction with an open mind and without too much forward-planning. It’s impossible to determine how your upcoming interaction will go, so go with the flow rather than preparing too much in advance. These situations are often easier to handle in the moment than when you’re anticipating the moment.

10 conversation starters when chatting to someone who’s dying

Tell them about your day

Did something exciting happen today? Maybe you had a really frustrating day at work, or are nervous about an upcoming event. Share elements of your day with them as though everything is normal. Dying can be an extremely isolating process, so making your loved one feel as though things are normal and okay – even if only for a few minutes – can do wonders for their happiness and loneliness.

“Can you tell me that story again?”

Ask them to share a story with you that they’ve shared before. This might be one of their childhood memories, a funny memory about their partner, or something embarrassing that happened to them. This can be a lovely way to make them smile, especially if the story is one that brings back positive memories for them (and you).

Ask them to share a secret recipe with you.

Does your loved one adore cooking? Do they have a secret recipe they’ve always refused to share? Take this opportunity to ask them how you can get your hands on it. Chances are they’ll share it with you, allowing you to continue the tradition of creating their secret dish for years to come.

“What’s something you wish you could experience again?”

Reminisce with them, and ask them about their favourite memories. They might share stories you’ve never heard before, and you might learn a thing or two about them, too.

Tell them how much you’ve learnt from them.

This topic isn’t one for the faint-hearted. If you’re good with tackling tough subjects, and you know your loved one will appreciate having this conversation with you, too, tell them just how much you’ve learnt from them over the years. Not only is this a lovely way to thank them for being around, but a wonderful way to send them off, providing them with the knowledge that they’ve had a big impact on your life.

“Is there anything I can do to make things more comfortable for you?” 

Whether they’re in need of a pillow readjustment, a new pair of warm socks, or a short-term Netflix subscription so they don’t have to spend every hour of the day inside their own head, there’s always something you can do to make them more comfortable (or distracted). If they tell you there’s nothing you can do? Brainstorm ways you can make things a little more pleasant for them, and do those thing(s) anyway (as long as you’re sure they’ll be keen on whatever it is you’ll be doing for them.

Avoid overly optimistic chat.

If your loved one is dying, chances are they’re aware of it. While you might want to make them feel optimistic about the future, it’s important to avoid saying things like, “You’ll be up and about in no time!”. This can feel isolating for a dying person who already likely feels as though nobody understands what they’re going through. They won’t be up in no time, so maybe refrain from telling them they will be.

“The nurse/carer/doctor told me…”

Tell them something positive one of their carers or healthcare professionals told you. Maybe they ate more food today than usual, or maybe they did something a little cheeky. Either way, knowing that something is going right for them can be extremely beneficial. It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom, right?

Choose a hobby you share with them and let them know how you’re going with yours.

Whether you both love reading or watching TV, spending time out in the garden or learning to knit, share your most recent progress with them! They might have a few additional recommendations or tips for you based on how you’re tracking.

“Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling?”

A hard question, but one worth asking if you think they’ll be up to answering it. This question can help you determine whether or not the ‘death’ conversation can be had. If they tell you they don’t want to talk about it, then make sure you respect that, and refer back to the other questions we’ve listed.

Wrap up

Conversations with someone facing their own death can be tricky to navigate. They can be emotionally overwhelming and very deep, but sometimes it can be helpful to keep the conversation light and positive. If in doubt, use these conversation starters - and let the words flow.

Many people who are dying find comfort in arranging their own cremation and memorial service. Whether you need to make arrangements for yourself or a loved one or would like to pre-plan for yourself, our team of dedicated and professional funeral planners can make the task easier, providing support every step of the way. For a free quote, call 1300 945 533.  

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