How Do You Talk To Someone Who Is Dying?
How on earth do we talk with someone who is dying?
Selena was becoming more and more frail. It was clear that, though in good spirits, her body was nearing the end of her life.
She kept having visits to hospital, and had recently had a fall which had precipitated one of these.
If you’re over 50, and especially if you are a woman, you will often find yourselves being the companion of someone coming to their end of life.
So learning how to talk with them about their situation is essential.
Ask What Their Understanding Of The Situation Is
This is an obvious question when you think about it. However, it is very often overlooked in these days of the medicalization of dying and death.
The more common situation is that someone is told what is wrong with them. This often leads to assumptions being made as to what this means.
In particular, the assumption that the patient wants to be kept alive (sometimes at seemingly all costs) can often get in the way of what that person may actually want.
As a relative or friend, you may be in a better position to simply ask ‘what do you understand is happening to you?’
When I asked that of a friend who was dying in 2014, she said she knew she was coming to the end, and she accepted that.
But she wanted her body to get a move on. She was finding the slowly drawn out nature of her death to be quite a challenge.
She was also quite clear she wanted a certain medication to be stopped, and another started.
Finally, she told me she had said all that needed to be said, and that she was ready to go.
This conversation helped me, and in such, aided my ability to talk to someone who is dying.
Be Willing To Accept What Is Happening To Them
It can often be the case that family members are the ones who are most distressed about their loved one dying.
Hence the ironic situation sometimes heard of when the one who is dying ends up comforting the one being left behind.
This means you will have to come to terms with it yourself, putting their needs ahead of yours.
I remember simply wanting my late husband to be out of pain, and free from a body that just was not working any longer.
I knew it would be difficult for me without him, but when you love someone, you don’t want them to be suffering, even if it means it will be harder for you.
Listen For The Metaphors
Often a dying person will ‘give a message’ to a close loved one, in such a way that only that person can understand it.
It is often a message demonstrating their understanding of what is happening.
Because I had read lots of stories of this happening, I was very aware when Philip told me he wanted to watch what had been his favourite TV show, Countdown.
By this time he had been in hospital for 6 weeks, and had been told there was nothing more that could be done.
He was too ill to be moved, so we knew the end was coming soon. He said he wanted to watch Countdown, a popular British programme focusing on numbers and word games.
Wanting to watch TV at all was very unusual as he hadn’t requested this for the whole of the previous weeks.
But when I heard that he wanted to watch ‘Countdown’, I knew he was telling me that he was ‘counting down’.
I found this to be very comforting. The fact that I knew he knew what was happening helped me be calm for the next couple of days.
This is a time for tenderness, open hearts and respect shown to all concerned.
I go into this in much more depth in my book, Before I Go. Inviting you to start conversations about this subject, regardless of whether you are caring for someone who is dying.
The more we become comfortable with this kind of conversation, the easier it will be to accept what is the one thing that will happen to us all.