The Right Words to Say Goodbye

Practical and Spiritual Advice When Someone You Love Is Dying

The Words to Say Goodbye
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What do you say to someone you love dearly when you learn he or she only has a few days to live? Do you continue to pray for healing and avoid the subject of death? After all, you don't want your loved one to stop fighting for life, and you know God is certainly able to heal.

Do you mention the "D" word? What if they don't want to talk about it? I struggled with all of these thoughts as I watched my adored father grow weaker.

The doctor had informed my mother and me that my father only had a day or two left to live. He looked so old lying there in the hospital bed. He had been silent and still for two days. The only sign of life he gave was an occasional hand squeeze.

I loved that old man, and I didn't want to lose him. But I knew we needed to tell him what we had learned. It was time to talk about death and eternity. It was the subject on all our minds.

Breaking the Hard News

I let my father know what the doctor had told us, that there was nothing more that could be done. He was standing at the river that leads to eternal life. My dad had been concerned that his insurance would not cover all the hospital bills. He was worried for my mom. I assured him that everything was fine and that we loved mom and would take good care of her. With tears in my eyes, I let him know that the only problem was how much we were going to miss him.

My father had fought the good fight of faith, and now he was going home to be with his Savior. I said, "Dad, you have taught me so much, but now you get to show me how to die." He squeezed my hand hard then, and, amazingly, he began to smile. His joy was overflowing and so was mine. I did not realize that his vital signs were dropping quickly.

Within seconds, my dad was gone. I watched as he was ushered into heaven.

Uncomfortable But Necessary Words

I now find it easier to use the "D" word. I suppose the sting was removed from it for me. I have spoken to friends who wish they could go back in time and have different conversations with those they have lost.

Often, we don't want to face death. It is hard, and even Jesus wept. However, when we accept and acknowledge that death is close and probable, we are then able to express our hearts. We can talk of heaven and have close fellowship with our loved one. We can also discover the right words to say goodbye.

The time of saying farewell is important. It's how we let go and entrust our loved one into God's care. It is one of the most powerful expressions of our faith. God helps us find peace with the reality of our loss, rather than anguish over it. Parting words help bring closure and healing.

And how wonderful it is as Christians to realize we have these hopeful, profound words to comfort us: "Until we meet again."

The Words to Say Goodbye

Here are a few practical points to keep in mind when a loved one is close to dying:

  • Most patients know when they are dying. Massachusetts hospice nurse Maggie Callanan said, "When those in the room don't talk about it, it's like a pink hippo in a tutu that everybody's walking around ignoring. The person who is dying starts to wonder if nobody else gets it. That only adds stress—they have to think about others' needs instead of dealing with their own."
  • Make the most of your visits, but be as sensitive as possible to your loved one's needs. You may want to sing to them a favorite hymn, read to them from the Scriptures, or simply chat about things you know they enjoy. Don't put off saying goodbye. This could become a major source of regret.
  • Sometimes a goodbye can invite a relaxation response. Your loved one may be waiting for your permission to die. However, the final breath may be hours or even days later. Often, the act of saying goodbye can be repeated a number of times.
  • Take the opportunity to express your love and offer forgiveness if needed. Let your loved one know how deeply you are going to miss him or her. If possible, look into their eyes, hold their hand, stay close, and even whisper in their ear. Although a dying person may appear unresponsive, he or she is often able to hear you.

    More Advice for Talking to a Dying Loved One:

    • Common (Mis)Beliefs about Talking to the Dying
    • Help a Young Child Dealing with Death
    • Interaction with a Dying Person
    • The Journey Towards Death

    Elaine Morse, a contributor to About.com's Christianity site, is well-acquainted with loss. After the death of her father and several close relatives and friends, Elaine was prompted to help grieving Christians. Her uplifting poems, verses, and printed materials are designed to give comfort and encouragement to hurting families. For more information, visit Elaine's Bio Page.