Notes, News & Musings on Elder Care

20 September 2010 by Published in: On Our Minds! 2 comments

“The Five Things to Say” To Someone Who is Dying
Pat Green from Mercy Residential Hospice spoke to our September Life Care Education group. As always, her talk was instructive and thought-provoking. She provided helpful information about death, dying and hospice care. Pat also shared “The Five Things to Say” when someone is dying.

I love that this impeccable to-do list exists! It provides a comforting embrace of structure and relevance when the abyss of grief and awkwardness threatens to render us speechless, clumsy or superficial. And that’s when we manage to show up, physically and emotionally for this intimate conversation. While avoidance and ineptitude in this situation are fairly common and entirely forgivable, some people harbor regrets about not having said something important- and never, ever again having another opportunity to do so. This can make an already painful bereavement process more difficult to negotiate.

The absolute finality of death is difficult to grasp and hang on to. Stealthy, unconscious denial can linger long after we have proudly proclaimed full understanding and acceptance of terminal diagnoses. And denial’s undertow can persist well beyond the funeral, lurking in the shadows of familiar old habits and anniversaries.

I also believe we fail to say important things because of some magical thinking about how if we don’t say goodbye the person just might not leave. So we avoid it. Is it such scary territory it bears waiting until the last minute, thus reducing the potential for some inexplicable, negative consequence? Perhaps it’s a kind of self limiting maneuver- -the ultimate in “playing it safe.” No matter the causes, it’s a lost opportunity for reconciliation, and for giving and receiving comfort, love and affirmation in two lives.

I know I’m not the first person this has occurred to, but here’s what I keep thinking about “The Five Things to Say”: They make for dandy discussion even when death isn’t imminent. Why wait until someone you care about is in a weakened condition, suffering pain or otherwise under the influence of impending death to tell them important stuff? I am sending a special shout-out to the procrastinators among us!

The Five Things to Say:

Dear KumbayahNation: Blow on the coals and feel the flame burn brighter! Make “The Five Things” a conscious, intentional part of your relationship repertoire. Families, friends and community need this warmth, and this energy.


  1. Mon 20th Sep 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I am grateful that I had the chance to say to a dying uncle that he had brought so much happiness to all of us — he had by being a big kid himself, given us lcense to dance in the sunshine and as he lay dying I could recall those moments when he laughed out loud and joked with us, encouraging us to be a bit mischievous. I don’t know if he understood what I was saying to him, but he & I held hands for a moment. Then, with my own Mother, I had the chance to say to her that I was proud to have been her daughter, and that she should do whatever she “needed to do” at that moment – I still had hope that she would live through her difficulties. Several days later, she died while I sat with her in the hospital. The advice given in this article is good. We cannot deny death exists, so we need to embrace it and those who are facing it because one day, we too shall be there at that door. Oh,yes, I was the last person on earth to talk wity my Dad. We parted that morning with talk about the usual routine things. He died a few hours later, suddenly, but I was grateful that I had that moment to live with him as though tomorrow was just ahead of us. And, indeed IT IS! I continue to “communicate” with him even though it has been more than 20 years since his death (it is only yesterday in my heart).

  2. Fri 27th Dec 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I used these five things in conversation with my mother in the months before she died, and they made all the difference in the world!!! For both of us! I continue to pass them on to others, and I also try to live them with the living humans around me.

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