What Do You Say to a Dying Person?

What surprised me during Marilyn’s short time in the hospital and her two weeks at home was the number of her friends that never came to see her. I thought visiting the sick or imprisoned was nearly a Christian virtue? I didn’t connect the dots until I was in Walmart one day and a friend of hers came up to me and said, “I’m so sorry to hear about Marilyn.” We talked a bit about the sudden cancer discovery and prognosis and then I said, “Why don’t you give Marilyn a call?” She began to cry. I said, “You don’t know what to say, do you?” And she confessed that she didn’t. She was afraid she’d say the wrong thing.

So what do you say to a dying person? First of all realize that avoiding the obvious reason for the visit only makes everyone uncomfortable. Talking about the weather and conversation about earthly ‘stuff’ is shallow and uncomfortable for everyone. State the reason for your visit head on. Realize that there are no right words. But there are also no wrong words. Just showing up means the most. Forget the platitudes and false hopes. Yes, there is always hope that healing will come, but all too often we say those things because we are in denial. Too many Christians don’t face death well. Birthing into heaven (death is that doorway) should be exciting for the Christian. How about, “Marilyn, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but I just want you to know that I really value your friendship.” or “Marilyn, if this is your time to go home, I want you to know that I’m really going to miss you. I’m just so glad that we’re going to have eternity together.” Is that talking about death too openly? For some it may be, but it’s honest. And the truth always sets us free.

Expect tears – and laughter. It’s a mixed emotional time. But if you go, no matter how awkward you may feel, you will be rewarded with a special blessing at that persons passing in knowing that you stood by them and went to see them. There is a hidden blessing in that. And hopefully, when you’re in that position some day, awaiting your heavenly promotion, your friends will come visit you.