THE BLOG
04/06/2016 06:44 am ET Updated Apr 07, 2017

5 Ways To Say Goodbye To A Dying Loved One

Losing people we love is difficult. Losing them to death is the hardest loss of all. But if you love, you'll have loss, and that loss may be to death. Now's as good a time as any to consider the beauty of saying goodbye.

Because the truth is, it can be beautiful. The final goodbye can be sad and poignant and lovely.

Losing a loved one to death from an illness is a process. It will leave a scar at its end but going through it propels you forward and helps you grieve. Part of that process will include saying goodbye. You will get through it a bit more easily if you maintain a mindful focus on the person you love. Concentrate on saying what you believe that person needs to hear to achieve peace. The goal of the goodbye is to leave you both in peace.

This is not the time to look inward to find the words to make yourself feel better. If you have unresolved issues you feel compelled to air, choose a time before the end to talk about those. But when saying goodbye, it's important to say things you won't look back on later with regret. Take time to plan and rehearse what you will say. Look into your heart to mine for the right words. These tips can help you craft the message that will do both of you the most good.

1. Don't wait. You need not hold off until the moment of death. You may not know exactly when that will be. I said my essential goodbye to my dying father just after his terminal diagnosis. He lived six weeks more but that just gave us time to enjoy the peace we shared.

2. Don't keep insisting the dying person will get well. You may think that's comforting but would it be comforting to you if you knew you were dying and everyone around you kept telling you that wasn't the case?

3. Show up. If you're there, that speaks volumes. If you're there holding hands or offering a massage, that's even better. If you're doing all that and saying lovely things, that's best of all.

4. Humor is really okay. You can smile, you can joke. Your loved one may get some peace from knowing you're still you, if humor has always been a part of your usual personality. Same goes for crying. It's okay. Emotion from the heart shows you care. As a friend's mother lay dying in a hospital, the whole family stood in a circle, put their hands together in the center, and cheered by joyously shouting her name, because that was their family tradition to support each other and mark special days.

5. Honesty isn't always the best policy. If you have a family rift and on your mother's death bed she asks you to promise to resolve it after she's gone, it's not necessary to say that hell will freeze over before you do so. Let her go with hope by saying things that promote peace. And, while it's not easy to make this happen, if you do have difficult siblings and dysfunctional relations with them, make every effort to keep that out of sight during this goodbye. My family was so dysfunctional I wrote my book Tales From The Family Crypt about it. Try not to be us!

I said goodbye to my mother when I was 24, goodbye to my father at 39. I learned a great deal in between those losses. Suffice it to say, if I could I'd go back to my mother's death and give her the gift of a true and loving goodbye, I would. Learn from me so you won't have the same regret. If you'd like to read more about family relationships, please visit my blog at deborahdrezoncarroll.com.

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