Saying Goodbye to the Dying


I am in the middle of saying goodbye to someone who has been extended family since I was a small child. She has suffered too long and has chosen to go to hospice care. Without dialysis, she won’t last another week.

When you receive the shock that their time has come, you may wonder,

How do you say goodbye to the dying?

How do you converse, knowing it will be the last conversation you ever have with this person?

What seems so riddled with difficulty and pain is actually quite simple and beautiful once you get past the fear and do it.

It’s not uncommon for the dying person to sleep or go in and out of consciousness. This is not a problem as you realize you are saying the words you need to say so you may have closure. The person who is dying may hear every word, even if she can’t respond.

Surprisingly, there may be laughter as you share some selected memory that captures the essence of your loved one’s personality.

No matter how you start your conversation, it always ends with letting the person know what’s in your heart. You express your love. You share some personal moment that may have happened decades ago, yet stayed with you as though it happened yesterday because those are the moments that change a life. So subtle they were, but those fragments of time helped you to know you were loved and accepted just as you were precisely because that person gave you this gift just being who she was.

As you anticipate your loved one’s passing, something stirs within. You realize how many of the things that fill our lives are so unimportant:  The arguments we have, the perceived slights, the competition and jealousy, frustrations and disappointments, the frantic rushing around, the work, work, work. Those things are the way of this world. They are the byproducts of living, but the dying have something to teach us even in an unconscious state.

As your heart breaks wide open, a bubble shields you from whatever else is going on. Life is reduced to that which is incredibly simple and yet profound wherein lives the only thing that matters, that thing being love. You realize how fully the dying person loved you, leaving an imprint on who you are today.

And, yes, we go back to being ruled by the clock, frustrated in traffic, impatient with others. We wake and make the same pot of coffee, drive the same route to work, and indulge the same mindless TV. Just like yesterday, the mundane rules our lives, but woven through each day, laden with tedium as it may be, is a subtle but powerful thread. Without really thinking, just being who we are, we take the baton of love that’s been handed to us and pass it to others, leaving our imprint on them. Without much ado, the original kernel of love that was bestowed on us remains alive long after its host has gone.


  1. Lovely, Eileen. And I look forward to a follow-up column: “Saying goodbye to a President whose actions cause our nation’s reputation to be dying.”

  2. As hard as it is, I’ve always felt it is also a great privilege to be present for a person’s death. It almost doesn’t matter what you say as long as you are honest about your love for them, and that you let them know it’s okay for them to leave, even though you will miss them. I have never regretted being able to be part of this enormous passage for someone, even with the heartache. Big hugs, Eileen.

  3. True words & trueheart-

  4. nancyspoint says:

    Beautiful post, Eileen. Thank you. I agree with what Kathi said. I was present with my grandmother when she died. I was present with my mother and my father through the dying process, but not at their actual moments of death. My memories of those difficult days and nights are hard to reflect upon yet at the same time, they are some of the greatest treasures I carry in my heart. Despite the heartache, it is a great privilege to be part of the passage someone you love takes from this life to the unknown beyond. Thinking of you, my friend. Hugs.

    • I agree with you, Nancy. It is a greatly privilege to take part in a loved one’s passage. Words can’t properly convey the depth of sharing in that experience.

  5. This is so beautiful Eileen – thank you for writing it. One of the hardest things I had to deal with when my Mom died is that I didn’t get a chance to have a last conversation with her. It’s a cliche, but I wish I had been able to say the things to her I should have said. Those unspoken words still tear at my heart.

    • I understand, Marie. I had similar regrets when my mother died so quickly and unexpectedly. I don’t know your belief system, but for whatever it’s worth, I do believe your mother exists in a state where she knows your heart and all the words you wished you had said.

  6. I am sorry you are going through this, Eileen. It is a difficult situation to witness. It is for me. But you are also right when you say it is a privilege to be there for those experiencing it. When I saw my friend last year, it was very hard for me to say a word. I was screaming inside my heart but could say nothing. And yet there was no other place I would have rather be. I felt safe being there for her. And I felt lucky at the same time.

    I hope the transition is as peaceful as it can be for everyone involved. Thinking of you, my friend. xoxo

    • Thanks, Rebecca. I do remember when your friend died. Tough stuff. My family friend died on Sunday. I actually feel grateful that she’s out of her misery. She suffered so much. xo

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