How to Say Goodbye to Someone Who Is Dying

Gabrielle Applebury
Contributor: Tamsen Butler
husband visiting wife in hospital

Saying goodbye to a loved one who is passing away can be very painful. Take your time and know that saying goodbye to a loved one who is dying is very personal, and will depend greatly on your relationship with that person.

Different Relationships Get Different Goodbyes

Your relationship with the person who is in the process of dying will dictate how intimate your goodbye is. Even though it can be emotionally draining and difficult to come to terms with saying goodbye, doing so before it is too late ensures that you are able to acknowledge the importance of the relationship and gain some sort of closure before the person passes away.

Take into account the individual's feelings and what this process is like for him or her. You may want to consider letting the other person take the lead when it comes to how you spend time together during his or her final moments. Being honest, compassionate, and frank can help you both enjoy these precious moments together.

Losing a Spouse or Partner

Having to say goodbye to a partner or spouse can be an intensely painful experience. You have probably spent the majority of your time with this person, building your lives together. Saying goodbye and coming to terms with him or her not being around going forward can be very challenging and might even feel impossible. Focus on your loved one's presence with you now and try:

  • Reminiscing about when, where, and how you fell in love
  • Reminding him or her how much this relationship has meant to you and will continue to mean to you once he or she is gone
  • Acknowledging your fondest memories together and looking through old pictures
  • Planting a special flower at your home or in a pot that you can take with you to remind you of the person's presence - have your loved one pick out the flower and care for it together until he or she has passed away
  • Watching your favorite home videos together, focusing on honoring just how special they are to you
  • Letting your significant other know your favorite qualities about him or her and giving examples
  • Asking if there's anything he or she may want you to do for them once your partner has passed away

Saying Goodbye to a Parent

A parent can be very hard to lose and saying goodbye to someone who has been there for you throughout your life is no easy task. Be kind to yourself and try to focus on spending time with him or her now. To say goodbye you may want to try:

  • daughter spending time with mother
    Thanking your parent for all that he or she has done for you throughout the years
  • Making a list of all the things your parent has taught you and sharing it
  • Discussing traditions that are important to them and letting mom or dad know how you will continue to carry them on going forward
  • Picking out a favorite picture of the two of you together and getting it framed
  • Asking questions about your parent's childhood and advice he or she wants you to remember once they have passed away - document this or create an art project using this information
  • Selecting meaningful matching jewelry that you both can wear- this can help you feel connected to your cherished parent once he or she has passed away

Saying Goodbye to Another Family Member

Losing a family member can change the entire family dynamic, even if you aren't particularly close to the family member. No matter what your relationship is with the person, saying goodbye is important not only for your own closure but to help the person

  • Talk to the person about their role in the family thus far and ensure them you'll step up to make sure traditions continue. For example, if they managed the family newsletter, either take that task on yourself or secure an appropriate replacement.
  • Remembering fond memories together is appropriate with anyone who is readying to pass away; if the two of you don't have memories together, asking about memories with other family members can lead to touching conversations.
  • Simply being there and giving them the gift of your presence and listening ear can be healing for the both of you. Some people shy away from people who are dying because of the emotion involved or because they don't want to face their own mortality, so when you step forward for a conversation, you're doing something others can't or won't do.
  • When you speak with the person who is about to pass away, don't try to offer false hope. People who are passing away deserve the opportunity to accept their death, and saying, "You're going to be fine" is contrary to what they've probably worked very hard to accept and seems condescending or dismissive.
  • Asking "What can I do for you after you're gone?" isn't insensitive and can provide some comfort to the ailing person. Just be sure to follow through on whatever promises you make.
  • If the person is religious, offer to pray with them and pray for a gentle transition to the afterlife.

How to Say Goodbye to a Dying Friend

To some, friends can feel as important or even more important than family members. The individual may be your trusted confidant, a best friend from childhood, or a recent friend that has left a meaningful impression on you. Friends are oftentimes there for you when no one else is, and may even understand you better than anyone else. To honor your friend's life, think about what you would want him or her to do for you if you were the positions were reversed. You may want to:

  • Talk about your favorite memories together
  • Create a collaborative art project to have as a special keepsake
  • If your friend is able to, head to a favorite spot that the two of you often frequent
  • Share how much the person means to you by writing a note or letting him or her know in person
  • Talk about what the friendship has meant to you throughout the years
  • Discuss how lucky you feel to have met the person and how he or she has changed your life
  • Ask your friend if there is anything you can do to honor him or her once the person has passed away - such as donating to their favorite charity or volunteering somewhere that is meaningful to the person

Writing a Letter

When you can't make it in person to say goodbye, or if the person dying isn't able to video chat, writing a letter can be a suitable alternative. If you're not sure how to write such an emotionally-charged letter, follow the suggested outline below:

  1. Start the letter with an apology that you can't be there in person.
  2. Include some words about your love or fondness for them.
  3. Thank them for their involvement in your life thus far.
  4. If you have a special memory, include it within the letter.
  5. Wish them peace and assure them they will never be forgotten.
  6. If appropriate, assure them that you will step up to help other loved ones as needed.
  7. Conclude the letter by reiterating your love or fondness for them.

Why It's Important to Say Goodbye

Death is an incredibly difficult event to cope with. Honoring your loved one and saying goodbye in a special way allows you to let the person know just how much you love and care about him or her.

How to Say Goodbye to Someone Who Is Dying