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Coping with impending death

Someone I know is dying. I do not know what to tell the person and what to do. I do not know if he is saved. How can one comfort a loved one facing certain death?

Trying to have a normal conversation with a loved one facing certain death is one of the hardest things one can do. What is most important is what the dying person needs – to make his/her last few moments peaceful.

People who are dying feel respected by open, honest conversations. Listen for cues that the person is ready to talk about dying – for example, comments about pain, fear of not being around, being tired, or wanting to go home to Jesus.

Apply grace by showing love, presence, and be respectful. Share Christ, but allow the Spirit to do the work. It is Jesus who does the saving, we are simply His hands and feet. Deathbed turnarounds towards God, can be genuine. Keep in mind the example of what Jesus told the thief on the cross who died alongside Him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) You can share a verse, offer to pray for them, or even tell your story of how you came to Christ.

You don’t have to be a pastor or a priest to minister to others. You could encourage the person to speak more and freely. Holding hands might help. Physical healing may not be possible, but emotional healing can happen. This is NOT the end. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Deal with regrets if any and free yourself of hard feelings by saying sorry or by saying “I forgive you.” The person may be too sickly; you can still however, forgive the from your heart. This involves letting go of your anger and any wish to punish the person for the hurt you experienced.

One woman did this with an older relative who had abused her as a child by whispering, “I forgive you” into his ear shortly before his death. Since he was no longer able to respond, it was not possible to know the effect it had on him. However, it was an important step for the woman – in freeing herself from her own burden of pain and anger.

Appreciate the person’s legacy by saying thanks for what she or he brought into your life. Saying thank you contributes to the person’s sense of dignity at the end of life. It will let your loved one know that his/her life mattered.

Say ‘I love you’ – freely and openly. When your loved one is nearing death, it is important to end each conversation in a way that will be okay if it is the last words you speak. Casual good byes may leave you wishing you had said something different. It doesn’t need to be mushy; but let the person know that he or she will always be important to you. Ask the person if there is anyone he or she would like to talk to by phone, internet, or in person. This may include a visit from a religious leader or old friends or members of the family. Ask if the person would like to have visit from someone. You and the carers can provide a dying person with a sense of control at a very vulnerable time.

When words are no longer necessary or possible, you can still connect through touch. Holding hands, patting the head etc can be a tender way of saying, “I am here. You are not alone.” Continue to talk to the person – even when she or he is no longer able to respond to you. The dying person will sense your presence and hear your voice and be comforted. Even if he/she cannot speak, you can at least know that you tried, eliminating any ‘what ifs’ forever.

If death is imminent, there is no more time to “think about it,” so you need to lovingly encourage him/her to trust Jesus “now,” while you are there to assist him/her. Lead the person to Jesus – people are saved when they understand the gospel and place their total trust in Jesus and what He has done to make our salvation possible.  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

You know that you will meet again – so, SAY it. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 states, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. You know that there won’t be any more loneliness or pain, so say that. Sometimes, loved ones need to know that you will be ok. Assure them that in God’s strength you would try to be. Nobody needs to die broken when we have a Saviour who went to the cross for us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me”. (John 14:1)

We answer your questions about faith, marriage, relationships, parenting, emotional issues, financial crisis or any spiritual struggle here. Have a counselling query? Ask us here, via email: [email protected]

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