Tips from a Hospice Nurse: What to Say to a Dying Person

When someone is dying, it can be an emotional and trying time for everyone involved. Many people shy away from the person who is dying because they don’t know how to deal with the emotions involved or they are afraid of what’s to come.

The most important thing to remember is this is about the person dying and not ourselves.

Many times, the person who is dying knows they are dying and wants to feel comfort and support. They want to be assured things will be OK and make amends for things that happened in the past.

You can use this to help guide you about what to say and how to say it.

Allow the person to be in control and follow their lead. For example, they may want to talk about their memories, big events of their life, etc. Keep their feelings and needs in mind during this time.

On the other hand, they may prefer to just be around their loved ones with little or nothing to say. In this instance you can show your presence by sitting next to them or their bed and providing a light touch of the hand or some other form of communication.

If they are unresponsive, don’t allow this to deter you from saying what you want to say. Hearing is thought to be the last sense to go in the dying process, so don’t be afraid to talk. Keep in mind that they person can likely still hear you, even if they appear to be in a deep sleep, so be mindful of what you say to others while in the dying person’s presence.

It’s also helpful to remember not saying anything at all may be right for some situations. Sometimes being still and in the moment is enough. Each situation is different because each person is different.

Tips for Interacting with a Dying Person

  • Reminiscence with the person. Talk about memories and accomplishments. Share memories of joyous occasions. Start the conversation with, “Remember when …”
  • Listen and be attentive while the dying person is sharing. They may feel the need to apologize or ask forgiveness for past transgressions. They may voice regrets from their life. Allow them time to speak and be heard.
  • Say I love you. If the dying person is a loved one and it’s appropriate, remind them they are loved. We all need to feel loved.
  • Thank the person. Thank him or her for allowing you to be there, for past things, etc.
  • Offer forgiveness. If there were situations when the dying person has hurt you in some way, offer them forgiveness if it feels right to you. Tell the person they are forgiven if you feel that way.
  • Can you help in another way? Is there something more they want to discuss that hasn’t been? Is there something more they want done? Ask them.

There are many ways to communicate and show compassion to a dying person. Find a meaningful way to connect with the person to provide comfort and support. Just being yourself and available is enough. Know that this can be a difficult time, and it can also be a peaceful time you may cherish.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or


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