It can be tough to know how to react when someone you love is dying. Not only is it a time of grief and sorrow, but it also forces you to take a look at your own mortality. You may feel that you're unable to cope, or that you simply don't know what to say. Although you may be tempted to stay away, avoiding your dying loved one is simply the worst thing you can do. Not only may your friend or family member be left to die alone, but you'll leave yourself open to guilt and regret long after your loved one is gone.
No matter how uncomfortable or sad it makes you feel, the most important thing you can do is show up. Your presence alone can be enough to brighten someone's day and provide him or her with comfort and love. When you don't know what to say, just be available to listen. Let the dying person share what's on his or her mind, and then respond accordingly. If the dying person keeps the conversation light, you should respect these wishes and do the same. If he or she seems fearful of certain topics, do what you can to ease his or her mind. This doesn't mean you should judge, or try to act as a counselor, but simply telling someone that you love him or her or sharing your favorite memories can serve as a form of consolation.
Just as there's no right way to react when someone you love is dying, there's also no correct way for a dying person to behave. Acceptance of your loved one as he or she is at each particular moment can provide you with tremendous freedom and peace of mind during this very difficult time.
How you should act around a dying loved one also depends on your history with the person. If you've enjoyed a strong relationship in the past, there's no reason it should change now. Think of your friend or family member as the person he or she always was, not as an invalid or someone with a disease. If you wouldn't have treated the dying person as a victim before the illness, why start now? Do your best to continue to enjoy the things you've always liked to do together, and make the most of any precious time that's left. Remember, life doesn't end until the moment of death.
If your relationship with your loved one has been strained in the past, the knowledge that time is limited may be enough to break down walls. Take this time to allow your relationship to heal, and let go of the issues, large and small, that may have kept you apart in the past. You'll both benefit from the sense of resolution and forgiveness this process can bring.
We all have preconceived notions of how a person who is dying should act, thanks to movies and television. However, don't be upset if your loved one doesn't act the way a movie star acts in a death scene. Every person deals with death in his or her own way. Some dying people may want to say goodbye to a certain person, seemingly holding on until that person can be reached, while others slip away when their room is empty. Friends and family should take their cues from the dying person and try to create the environment that person wants. Touch may be painful to a dying person, but the sense of hearing is believed to be one of the last senses to go, so loved ones are encouraged to speak comfortingly until the end.
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