When a friend is dying, it can feel impossible to find the words to say to him or her. The fact that you’re worrying about saying the “right” thing demonstrates that your friend is fortunate to have you in his or her life, including now as they come to end of life.
Being your most honest and vulnerable self is the only path to opening up the space for conversation and genuine support. It’s ok to let your friend know that you’re scared. It’s ok to let them know that your love for them far outweighs your anxiety about how you should be and what you should say and that you’re genuinely here for them.
So often, we convince ourselves “I have to be strong” or “I have to be reassuring”. You don’t have to be either of those things. All you must do (and all you can do) is love your friend.
To start a conversation, it could help to say something like “I can’t begin to understand how difficult this is, but what I do know is that I love you and I want to do my best to honour the friendship we have. I’m sad. I’m scared and I’m awkward, but I’m here. Whatever that looks like, I’m here.”
Sharing your feelings will help both of you cope better. You are essentially demonstrating to your friend that you are willing to be vulnerable and that they can be too.
If they are physically able, encourage your friend to talk. Be prepared to simply listen. This can be the hardest part – we’re socialized to minimize and distract when people express sadness & fear to us. Sitting silently and really hearing what your dying friend has to say is the key to supporting them.
You can encourage your friend to talk about his or her feelings by saying things like:
- How are you feeling today?
- Is there any one thing that’s worrying you the most?
- Do you feel frightened sometimes? Or maybe all the time?
- Is there anything you would really like to talk about?
- Do you worry more at night?
- Is there anything that helps you feel calm?
Finally, please try not to offer advice – not because you aren’t well-meaning, but because the things you may find helpful in your good health may not suit your friend in their journey through end of life. Try to avoid saying things like ‘I know exactly what you mean’ or ‘I know how you feel’ or even ‘I have felt like that before’. You don’t.