How You Can Help Those Who Are Dying

Summary: “Make it all about them”

A few years ago I found myself in a position of wanting to help a friend cope with difficult circumstances – he was losing his wife to cancer. I really wasn’t sure what to do, so I called another friend, a physician who unfortunately deals with death and dying all to often, and asked for his advice. Among other things, he suggested that I read Final Gifts by Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley. For me, and my friend, and his wife, this turned out to be very good advice.

The authors are medical professionals who work with dying people. In their book, they provide excellent and often counter-intuitive advice for those who are dealing with friends or loved ones who are dying. The big takeaway for me was that it’s all about the dying person and what they need and want. It’s not about you, or anyone else. Sure it will be tough on you, and you will probably need help, but your best role in this situation is to do all you can to make your friend or loved one’s death as comfortable, stress-free and peaceful as possible. I strongly encourage reading this book. If you do, here are just a few things you will learn.

Pay close attention to certain occurrences that are indications your friend or loved one’s time is very limited and in some cases they might need your help. Comments from the person who is dying or those around him or her that “something is different.” They look through you, or stare into space, or interact with people that you cannot see – reaching for them, talking to them, pointing at them, or waving at them. Confusing comments and the use of symbolic language, especially about going on a trip or traveling, waiting in line, or getting ready for something. Talking about vivid or recurring dreams. Talking about the need for reconciliation or getting closure on unfinished business. The book discusses examples of these and many other occurrences, and gives specific advice on handling each of them.

Overall, it’s best to accept and validate what they are trying to communicate. Don’t argue or challenge them. Instead, ask a lot of open-ended questions about their comments or actions. For example, say, “Will you tell me about that?” If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything – maybe try touching or holding their hand and smiling. Don’t force them to talk about death, but don’t shy away from talking about it if they want to do so.

In general, if you keep your focus on the dying, their needs and their desires – you will likely do the right thing. It’s all about them! Basically you need to let them choose how to spend the time they have left and support their decisions. I believe this book offers you and those you care about comfort in difficult times.

I dedicate this posting to my good friend Tom, his wife Carol, Doc Kilgore, and the women who wrote this incredibly helpful book. Read it – because sooner or later you will need it.

2 thoughts on “How You Can Help Those Who Are Dying

  1. Reply
    Tricia Kilgore - August 28, 2017

    So glad you posted this. Final Gifts is a great asset to anyone during this difficult time of transition. It truly gave me a sense of peace about the dying process.

  2. Reply
    Chris - August 28, 2017

    Tricia…I am grateful for our friendship and the fact that you and Larry have been such a positive influence on our lives in many ways. Larry gave me a real gift when he recommended this book. I was seeking advice for my friend Tom…meanwhile, after I read the book…both my parents got ill, required hospice care, and passed away last year. The knowledge in this book ending up helping me as much as anyone. By the way, Tom’s wife, Carol asked him about what he was reading. He told her and she decided to also read it before she passed away. Tom has told me on several occasions that she mentioned it was also very helpful to her. I hope this posting will leverage Larry’s knowledge (and it sounds as if I could have asked you and received the same advice) and spreads his advice to others who might find it helpful…Chris

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