An awkward silence fills the room often. As you feed, bathe, and rest near your loved one, sometimes there isn’t much to say. Symptoms may worsen. You’re not sure if they notice. You’re not sure if they want to talk about it.

Communicating with a person who is departing isn’t straightforward. You don’t want to upset them. But it might surprise you that many patients actually want to talk about what they’re experiencing. While every individual is different, these 5 guidelines will help you navigate difficult conversations with a person who is dying.

Step Outside of Yourself
When a loved one is at the end of their life, it’s emotional for you. Of course, you’re dealing with complex emotions and likely wish to express them to this person. Remember to practice empathy and consider how they’re feeling at all times. Acknowledge that even though you’re going through a lot, it’s important to center the person who is dying at this time.

Let them Start the Conversation
Having a conversation about death has to come at the right time. Feel out their energy. It’s ideal not to be the one to initiate this conversation. But pick up on cues they might mention. For example, if they say they likely won’t make it to Christmas, ask them how they’re feeling about that. Keep it even broader and ask if there’s anything else they want to talk about.

Be Present
Once a person begins talking about their experience, it’s essential to be an excellent listener. Make eye contact, even if they can’t. Nod your head and let them know you understand what they’re saying. This isn’t a good time to insert your own stories or experiences. It’s just time to listen and let them know you’re there. Touch their hand to engage their senses, too.

Be Realistic
It may be a natural tendency to offer help or solutions when a person tells you they’re upset. This isn’t one of those times. Resist any urge to offer advice or make false promises. Now isn’t the time to offer medical advice, either. You don’t want to give them any false hope for a different prognosis. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to just listen.

Offer Gratitude
These conversations may not come up often. When they appear to have finished expressing their feelings, use this time to let them know how much they mean to you. Let them know you’re sad too, but you’re there for them no matter what. Offer gratitude for positive memories in your life. Tell them you love them.

These conversations aren’t easy. Our resources will help you navigate conversations and feelings with your loved one. Download our green booklet to learn more.