This semester I have been teaching a psychology class on illness, death and healing. In the course of the semester, I have spoken with friends who are nearing the end as they face their own mortality, and with others who have recently lost someone they love. What surprised me is the desire by those who are dying to talk about their impending death.
We often talk about everything except this elephant in the room when we are with someone who is dying. We make small talk about trivial things for fear of upsetting the other person. What I have learned is that the other person is already thinking about the road ahead…as a matter of fact, for many it is what they think about most.
Many long for someone to share their fears and their hopes with only to find that no one wants to listen; no one wants to talk about what the process of death will be like…what life will be like after our loved one is gone. Because many of us are uncomfortable with death, we avoid the subject when that may be the very thing our loved ones need to discuss.
Sometimes we avoid the person for fear of saying the wrong thing. Several have told me that when their friends or family avoid them, it either makes them believe the other person doesn’t care or they feel stigmatized and unloved. Don’t avoid people you love; make amends if needed and give the gift of your presence. Sometimes words are not needed — just your presence and a willingness to listen.
I want to be sensitive to this in others and allow them the opportunity
to speak freely. If you know someone who is dying, don’t dance around
the subject but don’t force it either. Be a friend…be willing to meet
your loved one where they are and listen no matter what they want to