Skip to main content
Sand Running Through Fingers

Finding the Right Words When There Are No Words

Grandfather and Granddaughter

Dealing with terminal illness.

What to Say

When someone has been diagnosed with a terminal illness the last thing they want is a get well card.  Yes, the sentiment is there but the message falls flat.  Emily McDowell makes empathy cards.  Who knew there was such a thing?  Her tag line is “What to say when you don’t know what to say.”  How many of us have been there, not knowing what to say?  The societal taboo associated with death and dying renders most of us feeling awkward at best, and silent, at worst.  How do we communicate to the person who is dying what is heartfelt?

Some things to think about saying include: What do you admire most about the person?  Did they do something that you really appreciated?  Do you look up to them?  Why?  What have you learned from them?  Can you think of a funny story or an especially memorable moment that always reminds you of them?  In what way has this person’s life mattered to you?  We should never assume that a person/patient knows how we feel.  Telling them what we are thinking or how we are feeling accomplishes our goal.

Put It In Writing

If it’s too hard to say what’s on your mind, put it in writing.  The fact that someone would actually take the time to put their thoughts on paper goes a long way.  Notes can be read over and over again.  They have power.  Even though we write a note to the patient it can be saved and read by the survivors a well.  In this way our words help with the grieving process.  Saying nothing does nothing.  It bears repeating:  words have power.

When death doesn’t come suddenly there is time to say goodbye.  It’s not the easiest thing to do but it surely has power and impact when we muster the courage to put our thoughts into words.  After all, who wants to miss a last opportunity to speak our truth?  Positivity and love are in and of themselves powerful.  Get your message across by using your words.  You will be glad you did and they will be appreciated.