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How To Comfort A Friend Who Is Dying

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Have you ever wondered how to comfort a friend who is dying? I’m going to talk about my friend Cinda today whom I met about fifteen years ago. I first met her at a neighborhood luncheon and she was sitting alone at a table. I sat down next to her and we started talking about our family, food storage, emergency preparedness and so much more. This is the day our friendship began based on our common interests.

We started talking more and more each week, month, or whenever we could. Cinda and I were passionate about food storage and about being prepared for the unexpected. We would email each other with ideas and thoughts about current events, and even teach a class or two together about emergency preparedness. Navigating Life-Changing Emergencies: A Guide to Facing an Emergency

How To Comfort A Friend Who Is Dying

How To Comfort A Friend Who Is Dying

We would share ideas on how we could get the neighborhood involved in being prepared for a disaster or unforeseen emergency. One day, Cinda called me to come help her pack up her home because she and her husband had sold it. She also had another friend from a different neighborhood come and help pack. She had mentioned she had some pain in her abdomen and had gone to the doctor to get checked out.

The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong, so she used herbal therapy, essential oils, and some massage therapy by a friend in hopes that would help. The pain got worse, and she eventually went back to the original doctor, who realized she had missed a severe end-of-life illness, she now faced a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. She told the doctor not to worry because we all make mistakes. It was a challenging cancer to detect.

Getting Treatments

She and her husband headed to Salt Lake City, Utah, to a treatment center that specializes in cancer care to see if any treatment would work. She was told she had 18 months to live without any treatments and two years with treatments. They headed home, and her husband had to return to work to pay the bills. Cinda could no longer work. Her husband worked nights at the local hospital as a nurse, and they asked for volunteers to sleep overnight at her home so she wouldn’t be alone. Are You Prepared for a Medical Emergency?

I think I slept there three or four nights a week for a number of weeks as she received end-of-life care. You would think it would be difficult going there knowing your sick friend would die sometime in the next two years or less. It was fun to be together because we are both Christians and shared some common religious beliefs. We had some terrific stories about us both attending bible school when we were younger. We would look at photos and books and talk about how she lived, how she met her husband, and the day her son was born. We talked about her life accomplishments and how her own life had been such a joy. I listened and loved every story she talked about.

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What You Can Do Together

Well, she and I started looking online for other cancer clinics. Each night, we would go over the medical charts and the advantages of this clinic over another clinic. Every cancer clinic/hospital was on a spreadsheet, and we would talk about the pros and cons of each one. I think my physical presence made her feel loved and appreciated. I didn’t see big swings in emotions, and never felt she went through anxiety or depression even though she was going through the slow dying process.

She decided she would call one of the facilities the following day. She seemed to feel comfortable with her choice and made an appointment to see if they thought she had a chance at extending her life. She and her husband headed there and loved the place and the people. She started treatments for her terminal illness shortly after that. The sleepovers continued after she began the treatments at the new hospital when she would return home in between treatments. 13 Family Games You Need After A Disaster or Emergency.

Why Are Friends Important?

Friends rallied around her, and I don’t know about the others, but I drove over to her rental home in my pajamas with my pillow and blanket when it was my sleepover night. We would talk, giggle, and laugh until 11:00 P.M. I would leave before she woke up because her husband came home from work around 5:00 A.M. I will cherish forever those nights with her. Some people would call us loving caregivers, but I was just trying to be a true friend. It was a way to offer subtle practical help and add to her list of resources.

The treatments continued, and she lost her hair. I said when she was gone, I wanted her wig because it was a classic! We giggled! I know we all have family members, close friends, and acquaintances who have won their battle against cancer and some who have lost that battle. Some have died from other diseases or accidents.

She called me in December 2013 and said she had lost the battle but wanted me to hear it before I heard from someone else. We said our goodbyes, and she asked that I remember her as she lived and not how she died. We cried together, and I told her to watch from heaven because I would continue to teach the world to be prepared for the unexpected. She gave me a blue and green hummingbird to hang and to remember her by looking at the hummingbird. She made it through Christmas and died in February 2014.

How to Comfort a Dying Friend

  1. Laugh with them.
  2. Talk with them about the good times you both have had together.
  3. Ask them to share stories about their life.
  4. Giggle with them (it’s different than laughing with them, trust me).
  5. Bring them their favorite candy or treat.
  6. Bring them meals to help the family in practical ways.
  7. Clean their house (especially the bathrooms).
  8. Change their sheets.
  9. Clean the kitchen.
  10. Bring them fresh fruit and vegetables.
  11. Asking them how they feel about dying was the most special question I asked Cinda, my sick friend.
  12. If interested, help them write their life histories or at least write down stories they cherished about their good life.
  13. Listen, listen, and listen again to whatever they want to talk about, particularly when talking about their kids.
  14. Hug them and tell them you love them.
  15. Be sure to visit your friend, even if you don’t know what to say.
  16. Talk about the illness, and you can see cues from your friend if they want to discuss it.
  17. Ask them what’s on their mind today in a meaningful way.
  18. Treat your friend as you always have; they are the same person.
  19. Sometimes, people don’t want to be a burden, so they don’t ask for help (trust me, you’ll gain more for serving those who need help).
  20. You may want to do something for their partner or spouse, it is a hard time for them as well. I brought her husband a six-pack of Coke Cola and M&M peanuts! He loved it!!
  21. Offer to have prayer with them if you share common spirituality. Be willing to read from religious texts to help support their spiritual needs.
  22. Perform meditation exercises if that helps promote relaxation.
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What is my main advice in life?

I have two regrets in my life, the first one happened when I was 20, and my neighbor’s 2-week-old baby died from Meningitis. Sad, but I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I’m sure she could have used a hug and someone to talk to. My other regret was when I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and my lifelong friend, who I lived next door to growing up, gave birth to a stillborn baby within weeks of my giving birth. It would have been easy to send a note or call her. I didn’t know how to approach the situation. I regret this 50+ years later.

How can I support my friend emotionally?

  • Offer a listening ear without judgment.
  • Validate their feelings and fears.
  • Share memories and stories to celebrate their life.
  • Reassure them of your love and presence.

What can I say to my friend to offer comfort?

  • “I am here for you.”
  • “You are not alone; I will walk this journey with you.”
  • “Our friendship has meant so much to me.”
  • “Know that you are loved and cherished.”

Should I talk about death and dying or avoid the topic?

Follow your friend’s lead. Some may want to discuss their feelings and fears about death, while others may prefer to focus on positive memories and experiences rather than grieving and sadness. Be honest and open in your conversations if they bring up the topic.

How can I provide practical support?

Offer to help by running errands like buying groceries, be willing to do household chores like laundry, or provide transportation to medical appointments. Coordinate a support network of friends and family to assist with caregiving duties. Offers of help in their final days of life will mean a lot to their family too, even if they are under hospice care.

What if I don’t know what to say or do?

Simply being present can provide comfort and be one of their greatest gifts. Your friend will appreciate your company, even if you don’t have the right words. It’s okay to acknowledge your discomfort or uncertainty. Your friend will likely understand and appreciate your honesty.

How can I take care of myself while supporting my friend?

Seek support from other friends, family members, or a therapist. Set boundaries to avoid burnout. Practice self-care activities that help you recharge emotionally and physically. Don’t be hard on yourself. Understand that self-forgiveness is important since there is only so much you can do for someone with a serious illness.

What can I do to help my friend’s family during this time?

Offer practical assistance such as preparing meals, running errands, or providing childcare. Listen to their needs and be available for emotional support. Please respect their privacy and boundaries.

More Tips

Final Word

I only wish my friend Cinda had been able to read my book, Prepare Your Family for Survival: How to Be Ready for Any Emergency or Disaster Situation. If you have a friend who is not doing so well, I hope you’ll be able to use some of these tips. We all have to face these types of situations at one time or another. However, it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. May God Bless this World, Linda

Copyright Images: Hummingbird Ruby Throated Feeding Depositphotos_5565668_S By Okiepony

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27 Comments

  1. Linda
    thank you so much for that article. My husband has Parkinson’s and after seven years he is now going down quickly. After reading your article I realized that I have become his nurse and not his wife. I have listened to his stories so many times that I was beginning to turn a deaf ear. You have brought back my compassion for someone who may not be here this Christmas. It is difficult for those who are left behind but it is easier for us than it is for them. Thank you again for that reminder. Today will be different. I will leave the house cleaning aside and sit with him and ask him to remember, as his wife.
    blessings to you and yours.
    Vivian
    Cincinnati, Ohio

    1. Oh, Vivian, I have goosebumps reading your comment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think being a 24/7 caregiver is one of the hardest but the most rewarding jobs on earth. I’m sure your husband is thankful you care for him and listen to his stories. I live in the midst of elderly people and I hear the same stories over and over. I hope when I start telling the same stories over and over someone will listen and love me just the same way. May God bless you in your journey of life. Hugs from the heart! Linda

  2. Dear Linda ; I have no words to express the feeling I had while reading this message. If you have reached only one soul with this story of your love for your friend Cinda, it was mine. Unfortunately we don’t always have the opportunity to provide this comfort to our friends and before we realize it they have passed on without knowing how much we loved them. You were truly lucky to be able to share this with Cinda. On another note, I was one of those who experienced the death of not one but 2 of my infant sons. I never understood why their passing seemed to go unnoticed by friends and even family, while my husband and I never stopped grieving. Even a short note of condolence would be appreciated and would validate their little lives short as they were. To this day, 40 years later, I treasure the couple of cards we did receive. It is never too late to comfort a grieving friend or neighbor. Thanks and God Bless!

    1. Hi Katherine, thank you for sharing your thoughts today, this means the world to me. I’m so sorry to hear about your two little boys passing. My mother had a nine-month stillborn birth (my sister) and I now have thoughts that she probably went through the same thing you and your husband went through after their passing. I think we are sharing with the world how to help those that are grieving even 40 years later today. I wish I had written a short note of condolences for my friends to treasure years later. May God bless you for sharing your story. Hugs coming your way! Linda

  3. Linda, Thank you for sharing such a personal and loving experience… I am sure that your insight will help many of us to know how to reach out while there is still time to help comfort our loved ones. I think if we ask most people would say that they would rather have a visit when they are still alive, rather than our sorrow and tears at their grave. I used to wonder why we buy flowers when someone has died instead why not shower them with flowers when they are still alive and can see how much we care… If we can’t afford flowers then shower them with love, that only requires some thought and our time.

    Love this…

    1. Hi Karen, I totally agree with you about the flowers. I have told my husband when I die I want a celebration at a park and no flowers. Showering someone with love means so much more than a bouquet of flowers before we die. Thanks Karen, hugs! Linda

  4. Linda, Thank you for sharing. I lost my first baby at 37 weeks. Her heart stopped after I was given an injection of Delalutin to stop false labor. The injection relaxed my uterus all right, but it also relaxed my baby’s heart. I carried her for two more weeks, waiting to go into labor naturally and knowing she would be stillborn. During that two weeks and after her birth not one personal friend, pastor or church staff came to visit me and my husband was the choir director. My only visitor was the wife of a man who worked with my husband in the Coast Guard. I will always remember her kindness in coming to visit me. She brought a tray of cookies or something like that. I don’t remember exactly what she brought, only that she came and she stayed and talked with me for some time. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I remember that she came. I KNOW that my friends really cared and sorrowed with me, but she came. I’m not complaining about my friends because I know that it’s hard and you don’t know what to say, but I learned a great lesson that I can now use as a Rabbi’s wife. Just be there. Give them a hug, allow them to vent, bring a tray of cookies, but just GO. Be there for them.

    1. Hi Pat, I cannot even imagine losing your first baby at 37 weeks and then waiting to deliver your little baby girl naturally. My heart aches for you but I think your message is a good reminder we do need to say something, do something, go visit people with losses like you. Cookies, hugs, and listening is critical. Your message gives me chills because I know a lot of people and myself need this message to help us know how to comfort those with a loss of a baby, family member or friend. May God bless you for sharing your thoughts to help all of us to help others. Hugs and love coming your way, Linda

  5. Linda ,
    This was such a powerful post today. I appreciate your insight and honest feelings. The comments were very thought provoking for me. I have my regrets for not responding like I now wish I would have. I also remember helping and supporting in a manner that was a wonderful memory for me. I have people all around me where I could do more. Thank you for renewed motivation to be compassionate to those who carry heavy burdens. Everyone is blessed by the service and love rendered. I too have hand written notes from up to forty years ago from compassionate, thoughtful people. Thank you for taking time to share this.

    1. Hi Carla, thank you so much for thoughts you shared with me today. I think we all help each other more than we realize. I love hearing you have hand written notes from up to forty years ago as well! In some ways, social media has taken those treasured notes away from all of us. I love hand written notes and I need to write more of them myself. Hugs! Linda

  6. Hi Linda, I read your post today with more than the usual interest. My youngest brother only 58 years old has been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. It has spread + they say no hope. So to read something positive about how we as his family can help during the time he has left was a comfort. I will pass the list on to my family. Thanks for expressing your experience in a way that can bring direction to others. Connie

    1. Hi Connie, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, he is so young!!! I will pray for you and your family. This is such a hard time to hear news like that, no hope. I do know that my friend Cinda loved getting letters and notes in the mail from people who could not personally come and visit her. It is such a tough time for everyone. May God bless you to know what you can do to help make his days a little easier. Hugs and love coming your way, Linda

  7. Excellent post! Everyone needs to read this and follow your suggestions! You know, until someone is gone, there is still time to write that note. I know that the few days I spent with my mother before she passed, I really appreciated the visits from a few of my childhood friends – they made all the difference in the world to my dad and me.

    1. Hi Susan, I love your comment about having visits from your childhood friends coming by to comfort you, your mom and dad. I think everyone needs to hear this because it helps share ideas of what to do when we have these type of situations going on all around us. Hugs, Linda

  8. What a beautiful article!! Linda, you can believe that your friend is reading your book from heaven. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t give you some nudges when you were writing it!!! Thanks for sharing something so special. Hugs to you.

  9. Hi Linda, I am a 22-year old graduate student studying clinical psychology to become a therapist. I read all of your posts and really appreciate what you do for others. This post was especially intense, because sometimes I am totally immersed in the stress of school and I forget all of the beautiful things in life that are happening around me, like my friends and family. I am a stressed therapist-in-training trying to help other people not feel stressed – haha. Anyway, thank you for this post and for reminding me that life isn’t just about “doing”, it’s about “being” in the moment and appreciating the life we have.

    1. Hi Lindsay, I love hearing about your schooling! I’m sure going to school is extremely stressful and I can only imagine the stress in the field you are training in. I think we all need a reminder to enjoy today….and it’s hard when we have deadlines to meet. I believe you will do very well in the field you have chosen. May God bless you in your work….Linda

  10. Linda – this was a great article. I also wish I would have known how to respond years ago to these types of situations. I have not had many people die that were close to me – my grandparents were all gone by the time I was a few months old – so I didn’t deal with it until my parents died at very old ages.

    Now my brother was given 18-24 months to live 19 months ago and will probably only make it a few more months. He’s almost made it to 80 and lived somewhat of a riotous life so that makes his memories interesting and colorful! Sometimes he’s in denial even though he’s in bad shape. I don’t argue with him but just listen as he recounts his life – the good and the bad choices. Your advice was exactly what I have found in going through this with him. Thank you!

    1. HI Kay, thank you for you kind words, my sweet friend. Life can change in a matter of minutes. I’m sorry to hear about your brother, but it’s fun to hear his life stories, I’m sure. Great comment, Linda

  11. My neighbor was widowed in her 60’s. She had 1 “good” son who lived in SoCal and 2 “crap” kids who lived locally. They were utterly useless. My husband and I had befriended Charlotte and her husband so when her husband died suddenly, we took over caring for her and helping her needs; i.e., replacing the power pole that fell in the middle of a winter storm, household repairs, taking her grocery shopping (she never learned to drive), etc. After 2 years of caring for her,she finally saw a dr after 35 years who referred her to a specialist. It ended up she had a hot gallbladder and needed surgery. Well, they simply closed her up after finding intraabdomenal spread of stage 4 cancer. I took care of her for the next 2 years solely. All her dr appointments, chemotherapy, hospitalizations, surgeries, etc. She ended up giving me complete power of attorney to take care of her. Boy, did those 2 kids hate that! The SoCal son was grateful and did what he could from such a long distance. She was afraid of dying so we talked about it. She knew I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so she was willing to discuss things. I think it helped. I had Hospice bring a bed but we made it pretty and I bought her comfy nice pj’s. The end was hard. The 2 crap kids caused fights and arguments, the SoCal son and his girlfriend were supportive. I had a terrible time with the oncall hospice nurse (whom I later found out was fired) but shortly after the new nurse came on duty, it helped. I had the extreme blessing of holding Charlotte while she died. Hardest thing I’ve ever done until my own mother died. I wasn’t able to stay with her 24/7 but we had a baby monitor next to her bed and she called me when she needed me. The neighbors were used to seeing me run across the street in my bathrobe. The funeral was a disaster, thanks to the 2 kids. I was not welcome nor liked but I went anyhow. I’ve never heard from any of her 3 kids again but I still, to this day, put flowers on her and her husband’s grave.

    Helping someone calmly and lovingly leave this world is the greatest blessing any human being can do. God bless all the hospice workers, too!

    1. HI Robbie, oh my gosh, what a blessing she had you and your husband. I can’t imagine feeling all alone and having kids not willing to help. Thankfully the one son appreciated what you were doing to help his mom. God Bless you for helping her to the very end. I would have gone to the funeral too! She would have wanted you there. Hugs, Linda

  12. Linda: your message today was very timely for me, as one of my best friends passed away two days ago on 4/19. She had been sick & going downhill for several months with stage 4 cancer. All of that was so surprising, given that she was the healthiest person around the rest of us, as she spent most of her time walking many miles daily & consuming the healthiest diet of all of us. And then came the diagnosis. At first, I spent a lot of time getting the word out to church & book group friends by email & then kept up with sending them updates. Everyone was always asking about her & praying for her. Our book group members took up a collection; a friend & I used that money to buy some gorgeous flowers & took them to her & visited at her home. That was the last time I saw her (over a month ago) because my pet & house sitting business had taken off, so I just occasionally sent her cards. That is my regret today – that I was too busy to do more for her while I had the chance, because all of a sudden, she was gone. My heart is broken & I miss her so already.

    1. Hi Janet, oh I’m so sorry to hear about one of your best friends passing. You know I had discussed with my friend Cinda that in her last few weeks we would not visit one another. I would call her and text her but as far as visits, I had to remember her as “My Cinda”, if that makes sense. Other friends had said I wouldn’t recognize her towards the end. We both knew we were besties but I wanted to remember her in her cute wig, smiling and giggling together. I know your heart is broken, but she is smiling down at you from heaven and knows you loved her so much. You were blessed to have been able to help her when you did, she was the luckiest woman to have friends just like you. Hugs, Linda

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