- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Caring for someone nearing the end of life
- Providing emotional support
- When you don’t know what to say
When you don’t know what to say
People often wonder what they should say to a person who is dying. It’s understandable that you don’t know what to say – what you feel might be so complex that it’s hard to find the right words, or any words at all. It is common to worry about saying the wrong thing. Most times, the person who is dying will find comfort in you being there, rather than feeling the need to find “the right words”.
You may want to say something that would help them cope but don’t know what that is. It’s usually better to say something than to pretend that nothing is wrong.
Someone who is dying will probably appreciate knowing that family and friends are thinking of them. Even if you feel you’re not doing anything, just being there sends the message that you care.
In her book The Etiquette of Illness, Susan Halpern suggests asking, “Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling?” rather than “How are you feeling?” This approach is gentle and less intrusive. It also gives the person the choice to respond or to say no.
Dr Megan Ritchie, Staff Specialist Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Service, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Rosemary Cavanough, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Metro South Palliative Care Service, QLD; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC; Rowena Robinson, Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia, ACT; Helena Rodi, Program Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC.
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