Heart Advice

on Helping the Dying

IN A HOSPICE I KNOW, Emily, a woman in her late

sixties, was dying of breast cancer. Her daughter would visit

her every day and there seemed to be a happy relationship

between the two. But when her daughter had left, Emily

would nearly always sit alone and cry. After a while it became

clear that the reason for this was that her daughter had

refused completely to accept the inevitability of her death, but

spent her whole time encouraging her mother to "think positively,"

hoping that by this her cancer would be cured. All that

happened was that Emily had to keep her thoughts, deep

fears, panic, and grief to herself, with no one to share them

with, no one to help her explore them, no one to help her

understand her life, and no one to help her find a healing

meaning in her death.

The most essential thing in life is to establish an unafraid,

heartfelt communication with others, and it is never more

important than with a dying person, as Emily showed me.

Often the dying person feels reserved and insecure, and is

not sure of your intentions when you first visit. So don't feel

anything extraordinary is supposed to happen, just be natural

and relaxed, be yourself. Often dying people don't say what

they want or mean, and the people close to them don't know

what to say or do. It's hard to find out what they might be

trying to say, or even what they might be hiding. Sometimes

not even they know. So the first essential thing is to relax any

tension in the atmosphere in whatever way comes most easily

and naturally.

Once trust and confidence have been established, the atmosphere

becomes relaxed and this will allow the dying person

to bring up the things he or she really wants to talk about.


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