When Words Backfire: Three Seeminlgly Comforting Phrases That Hurt Your Dying Loved One

man holding his loved one's hand

One of the best expressions of love for terminally ill patients is encouraging them with words. But ironically, words can also be the very thing stressing out or hurting your loved one. In most instances, relatives aren’t aware of this. The worst part is that the things you think can comfort your loved one are the ones that are making them upset. If you want to show genuine love and concern to your loved one, be watchful of these common words of encouragement that do more harm than good:

“How are you?”

We ask this with the sincerest intentions. Sometimes it’s just out of habit that you blurt it out as a way of greeting. But this question can be really overwhelming for someone who’s seriously sick. Just put yourself in their shoes: Being asked this when you know that you have only a few months to live, when your body feels like not your own, and when you have so much unfinished business still. It’s a bit insensitive, right?

Instead of asking them this, rephrase it with: “How are you feeling today?” This way, they can concentrate on what’s happening to them as of the moment, not their future and not other people. With this, you’ll also be able to draw out what they have wanted to talk about at that specific moment. You’ll know what they specifically need.

old man on the hospital bed

“You’re going to be okay.”

They’ll be dying soon. They’ll be leaving their families and friends. This is the reality of their condition. When you tell them that they’re going to be okay, it just gives them false hope. Worse, you could be hurting their feelings because they very well know that that’s not going to happen. Of course, it’s understandable that you want to comfort them in their loneliness and pain, but sometimes, your silence alone is enough to communicate that. Sometimes holding their hand or smiling at them can relieve some of the sadness they feel. Instead of filling the awkward silence, try to embrace it. When your loved one speaks, follow their cue. Listen carefully to what they say so that you can respond with encouragement accordingly.

“Let me know if you need anything.”

A terminally ill patient will need all the care and support, so instead of asking them, do things for them. Cook food. Clean the house. Adjust the temperature in their room. Remove the wilted flowers. If it would mean transferring them to a hospice in Southern Indiana to give them a better life even in their last days, then so be it. Of course, go beyond the physical needs. A dying person will likely have emotional turmoil. They might feel like they should ask for forgiveness from certain relatives or express their regret for not doing the things they should have done. You should be sensitive in processing these emotions, too, precisely because this is what they need exactly. 

Words have power. They can either alleviate or worsen the pain your terminally-ill loved one is going through. Choose the former. Be sensitive and always on guard.

Scroll to Top