When someone you care about has a loved one in hospice family care, it can be a challenging time for their whole family because they are already grieving even though their loved one is still alive. Because the grieving process starts as soon as a terminal diagnosis is received, talking with someone who is grieving can be challenging. Nevertheless, there are ways you can help them without making the situation worse. Here are some tips for communicating with someone who is about to lose a loved one.
What Not to Say
If you want someone to know you genuinely care, avoid trite phrases like:
- It is God's will.
- He/she will be in a better place.
- Time will heal wounds.
- He/she has had a good, long life.
- I know just how you feel.
- Be strong.
- God needs him/her more than you.
- It's okay.
What to Say
It is often best to listen more than you speak. However, it is appropriate to say things like:
- I am here for you.
- I love you.
- I am sorry.
- I am not sure what to say.
- What can I do for you?
- Will you tell me about him/her?
- I am here to listen.
- Take your time.
- It is OK to grieve.
What to Do
Some other tips:
- Listen more than you speak. When someone is grieving, they need to take their time and process all their emotions. Don't rush them to heal on your time table.
- Leave your own values and beliefs outside. If they ask you what you believe about death or the afterlife, it is okay to answer. However, don't force them to listen to what you believe about those topics.
- Remember that all losses are unique. Even if you have lost someone, your experience is not the same as this person's experience. Let them be their own authority and grieve the way they need to.
- Ask simple questions. Try to ask questions that only require "yes" and "no" answers. The grieving person may not feel up to answering a lot of long, complicated questions.
- Use a lot of nonverbal communication. Hold the person's hand, lean in toward them, look them in the eye, touch their arm or shoulder.
- Know you can't fix things. Don't even try. It is not your responsibility to make things better. All you can do is listen and show them your love.
- Don't dump your emotions on them. Picture a circle with many rings around it. The people closest to the dying person are in the inner circle (like children or spouses). The next circle would be their closest friends. The next would be neighbors or other friends. The next would be coworkers or other acquaintances. When you need to vent your emotions, always talk to someone who is in a larger circle than you.
The most important thing to remember is to listen and to be authentic. Don't feel like you need to fill silence with words. Just be there and you will be able to help them get through this tough time.