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Words of Comfort: What to Say When Someone Is Dying

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Words of Comfort: What to Say When Someone is Dying
Candace Rotolo
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is traumatic. But sometimes, what people say in an effort to offer comfort is equally distressing.

The truth is, many of us just don't know what to say to a loved one who is facing their mortality.

"Most of the time I really liked when people said nothing," notes Michelle Colon-Johnson, who has been diagnosed with stage four cancer five times and survived. "If I wanted to talk about the cancer, it felt good to know I could talk to others, but I never wanted to be treated differently."

Experts who assist patients in their final days say the best thing to do for someone who has recently been diagnosed is to allow them to guide your conversations and actions.

"They might not want to talk," explains social worker Edie McCaddin-Bower, vice president of support services at Beacon Hospice. McCaddin-Bower says it's important to respect the patient's wishes, but let them know you're willing to lend an ear to hear their thoughts, wishes and fears whenever they are ready. Fellow social worker Meredith Cinman, ancillary services coordinator at Amedisys Hospice in Valenica, CA, adds that loved ones should try not to worry about saying the "right thing" but spend more time listening to the patient.

What NOT to Say to Someone Who Is Dying

"Avoid platitudes," adds psychiatrist, Huffington Post blogger and author Marcia Sirota M.D. "Saying things like, ‘Everything happens for a reason,' and ‘It's God's will,' can make the person feel like (their illness) is their fault." Trying to reassure a patient they'll be o.k. can be hurtful because they know it isn't true, continues Dr. Sirota. She adds that saying things like ‘You're strong, You'll get through the illness' is equally problematic. "Maybe they don't feel strong and need to feel like they can be afraid....

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