Death and Saying Goodbye: How to Make Those Final Moments Perfect

death do us part

Everybody begins on separate starting points, each off on his/her own unique journey through life. However, we all share the same finish line, the same inescapable fate that awaits us: death. As we wait for our own, we will witness some of our loved ones leave us one after the other, and we’d be very lucky to spend some final minutes with them, by their side. What do we say? How can we help? Here are seven do’s and don’ts of a proper last farewell before death.

1. Don’t pretend that ‘it’ is not happening.

Keep things real before death.

The person is nearing death. You can’t deny the fact that he/she will be gone soon. Some of us go into denial: wishing, hoping, begging that the time has not yet come. However, this would actually be offensive to the dying, who is currently in a maelstrom of emotions. He or she is perhaps the only one who is practical about the situation, and nothing would comfort him or her more than friends and family who share the same thoughts.

What you should do and say

Be open, honest, and authentic. Accept the situation for what it is. The dying person will gladly appreciate that you accept the fact that he/she is leaving, and that though saddened, you will still lead normal lives.

  • “I can’t think of anything to say.”
  • “I love you and I am here for you.”
  • “I will always remember you.”

2. Do mend your relationship

This is the last chance to say sorry.

No two people live their whole lives together without a single misunderstanding between them. Sometimes it’s obvious; other times those bitter feelings are withheld so as to preserve peace. No matter what happened in the past, if you care enough to say goodbye to someone in death, you care enough to make amends. We have different viewpoints and tolerances, we’re only human and make mistakes, but we still can forgive.

What you should do and say

Tell the dying person how you feel about all the times both of you fought. Say that you have forgiven him/her of all errors. Even if your contact is rejected, be firm and understand that such person is feeling all sorts of emotions. Just continue to mend your relationship with him/her. It’s the last time you’ll ever get to say sorry personally.

  • “I’m sorry for all I’ve done to you. I hope you can forgive me.”
  • “Despite what we’ve gone through, please know that I still love and respect you.”
  • “Don’t worry, I have already forgiven you for all the troubles you gave me.”

3. Don’t just mourn silently.

Take this time to talk it all out.

When we are at a person’s deathbed, we often overthink what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Other times, we don’t know how we should converse with the dying. This will lead to the most awkward silence in both of your lives. Keeping quiet so as to let the person ‘rest’ will not make him/her happy when he/she finally dies. You should take this moment to strike up one final dialogue with him/her. After all, nobody wants to die alone with a ‘stranger’ who just sits and watches the whole dying process.

What you should do and say

Talk to the dying person as much as possible. Discuss happy moments, create a light and casual atmosphere, and never stop talking. This is the time where you pour out all of your emotions into beautiful sentences of parting. Despite the somber environment, keep it as lighthearted (but appropriate) as possible. When he/she talks, you listen. Being able to express how he/she feels as well as listen to how you feel will immensely relieve the sick person. It doesn’t matter if he/she does not respond. What you want to say, say it NOW.

  • Now is the time for you to express all of your thanks, apologies, forgiveness, reminiscences, joys, and sorrows. Say anything you want.

4. Do make memories.

“Let’s have one last selfie.”

If your friend or relative is leaving for another place or country where neither of you will see each other again in the next few years, you’d definitely jump at the opportunity for “one last moment together.” Same goes for dying. Symbolism, or having something to remember by, will help you feel connected to the deceased in the future. Not only will this cheer you up, it will also cheer up the dying person, even if only for a bit. However, don’t fret if you have too few memories with the person. Think quality over quantity.

What you should do

Reminisce together of all the happy moments you shared. Try to picture them out as clearly as possible, “Remember that one time in spring we went to the fair together and won a red bicycle?” Make mementos for the future, like one last picture together, one last shared meal, one last song, etc. It doesn’t have to be tangible; it only needs to remind you of that person.

Suggested methods of making memories

  • Hand- and footprints of the whole family
  • Recordings of the dying person’s voice
  • Happy photos
  • Letters from the dying person addressed to the family members or friends
  • A last supper shared together
  • Funeral arrangements

5. Don’t give medical advice or religious explanations

Unless you’re a priest, don’t start a homily.

“You should have visited the doctor sooner.” “This is all under God’s will.”  These are phrases examples of which you should avoid saying to the dying. Unless you are performing extreme unction, don’t preach; this will only make the emotional suffering worse. Even doctors don’t tell their terminally ill patients “should have’s” and “could have’s”, since regret is the last thing you need to give. Telling them that this is all according to God’s plans will make it seem like you’re trying to make them hate God.

What you should do and say

Tell them that this is reality instead of discussing religion. Again, keeping it realistic and not idealistic is the best way of saying goodbye. Don’t say “You’ll be seeing your friends soon,” but rather, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts.” Whether they believe in higher powers or not, now is not the time to discuss it. As for their medical choices, don’t berate them; they probably exhausted all means of treatment they could think of.

  • “You’ve done all you could; you have no more regrets.”
  • “This is reality. You are not punished for your actions.”
  • “Don’t feel bad. Soon, we’ll see each other again.”

6. Do stay by their side until the end.

Stay where you are.

This is perhaps the greatest sacrifice you can do for the dying person: you surrender your time just for them. If you don’t know when they are going to die, but you are sure it’s “any time now,” stay by your side! It may take hours or even days to keep them company, but that time will feel like nothing once it’s over. If they tell you to “rest” or “occupy yourself somewhere”, refuse. The dying often feel guilty for taking up most of your precious time just to stay by their side, but they don’t really mean it if they say you should leave them alone for a while.

What you should do and say

Stay right beside them. If you feel sleepy, sleep by their bedside, or talk to them to kill the drowsiness. Just ignore their concerned pleas for you; assure them that they do not burden you at all and that you willingly chose to stay nearby. There may be nurses (or friends and relatives if at home) to beckon for if you need anything for yourself, like a drink. They’ll always understand.

  • “I’m always here for you, then, now, and forever.”
  • “I’d rather be by your side. This is my choice.”
  • “Your comfort is my comfort; I’m not tired at all.”

7. Don’t neglect their physical comfort when Death is nearby.

The dreaded moment.

This is perhaps the most important thing to remember. Simple emotional support is not enough. You need to remember that the dying person is, in almost all cases, lying on a bed. They may not be able to move to adjust their awkward posture or too weak to complain about inconveniences, like thirst or an itch.

What you should do and say

Regularly adjust their position, keep them hydrated and comfortable, and make sure to see signs of discomfort. Do not be afraid to touch them. Lift their limbs regularly to ease the pain of lying in a stagnant position for too long. You may need to start using intuition in interpreting inaudible whispers, gestures, and moans. Make sure the temperature is just right.

  • “I’m here to make you comfortable.”
  • “Just relax. I’ll make you as happy as possible.”
  • “Please tell me if you feel discomfort / need anything. I’m right here.”

Final thoughts

All of these happen at the same time. You need to keep them in mind and do all these things as the person dies. Most of the time we are just alerted of our loved one’s death, so being there to see them in their last seconds is an honor you should not take for granted.

As they fade into eternal slumber, never forget these:

  • Assure them that you will be fine when they die.
  • Thank them for all they’ve done.
  • Say “I love you” over and over.

It might be hard for you, but knowing that your beloved died happily and comfortably, will ease your heartache.


Signy, H. (2015). When Someone is Dying. Reader’s Digest July 2015.

Read more

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15 Facts about Near-Death Experience

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  1. Death, is arguably one of the biggest fears facing most people in the world today. It is the fear of the unknown and the millions of questions that lie after we have left this earth. This article was a perfect checklist for someone who is swamped and overwhelmed with emotions when they see their loved ones passing on to the other side. It speaks to someones character when they can assess the inevitable situation at hand and respect the other person/people enough to be there for them in that moment, regardless of any disputes or squabbles that have happened over the years. I was actually happy when i read this because even when we mourn the loss of that person, we can use this article to process the feelings and decisions that follow after the dust has settled.

  2. This article is well-intentioned, I am sure, but I do have to disagree with a couple of the writer’s points of ‘advice.’ As a longtime nurse with more than a decade of hospice experience, I can tell you that it is never as simple as this article makes it seem. Death and the dying process bring forth many complicated issues for families and individuals alike, and everyone handles this stressful time differently. There is no ‘one’ correct way to handle death, since it is a multifactorial process; culture, religion, belief systems, education, family status, age, and socioeconomic status (and more!) all factor in to the way a death is handled (and is very rarely ‘perfect’). Many, many times over the dying person wishes to be left alone, even for a while, and will not rest well unless left alone. If one is to respect the ultimate wishes of the dying, this is a necessary part of that process; simply refusing to leave the person’s side no matter what they say is a disrespect. I can not tell you how many times I have witnessed an elderly mother or father just holding on and continuing to experience pain because they intrinsically want to protect their children (no matter the age); then, when the family are convinced to “take a break, get a coffee” the parent feels that it is finally okay to let go–and passes in peace while family is out of the room. It may sound like a strange phenomenon, but it happens all the time. I always make a point to explain this to families, so that they too can feel some peace about it. Letting the person know you are there IF they need you/want you is much better than never leaving their side (for some).
    Ultimately, it comes down to knowing (or figuring out) what each individual wants, and then respecting those wishes. Physical comfort–being a pain-free as possible–is paramount, I will agree with that. Living in denial is inevitable for some, but usually works itself out, as it is part of the grieving process. Making amends is important not absolutely vital–sometimes things are better left in the past (trust me on this one–it can bring up unnecessary pain, depending on the severity of the situation).
    Again, I do believe this author means well, and does make some excellent points; but I think it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one-size-fits-all” way to approach this process. Each individual is unique and should be treated (and respected) as such.

    1. I appreciate your feedback, and though I know you have more real-life experience on the topic, and that there really is no one-size-fits-all approach, listing down all the different ways of dealing with death would make a burdensome article. The list is as generalized as possible, and I really was uncomfortable with writing this, as I detest writing generalized lists due to inaccuracies. However, I felt that this was what a proper farewell should be, and though there may be deviations, we still process it the same way.

  3. Seeing your loved ones die is probably the saddest thing that can happen, but the truth is, we all have to face the death of the people close to us eventually.
    This article is a good checklist or guide, for someone experiencing the final moments in the life of someone close to them. Most people in that state are so overwhelmed with emotions that they feel helpless and do not know what to do in this situation.
    I think this article can help people, to make these last moments a bit less awefull, and to remind them that even though they’ve lost someone, their memory will always be with them.

  4. Death is a hard topic to address, but this article does a very good job of doing so. It’s palpably awkward and uncomfortable when you are in the room of a dying person, with somebody who cannot accept the inevitable truth. The topics addressed in the article make it more easy and comfortable to try to bring healthy grieving away from methods that may be less than ideal. Many people who try to ignore truth can be hard to help grieve properly, and they spend so much of their life and energy mourning a seemingly endless tragedy that has already happened. One of the best take-aways, in my opinion, is to say what you want to say when you feel it is appropriate. Don’t hold back feelings because you’re scared to express them, because you may not always have the chance.

  5. Having just gone through this myself I can tell you that the article does hit on many points that allow someone’s passing to be easier on you.
    However, everyone deals with death differently. Yes, there are generalizations that do help you and can help ease the dying loved one’s passing, but it is important to note that not everyone will react the same way to the same situations.
    I would suggest that you thinks about what is right for you in your situation. Does your loved one wish to be alone or surrounded by family (or somewhere in between)? Do they want you to see them in that situation (I myself do not want anyone to see me dying in a hospital, but that is me)? Are there cultural differences that might make some of the suggestions above problematic or even possibly socially unacceptable?
    I would also suggest that the author look into academic articles one death and grieving (Death and dying: what the patient wants – L. Balducci – Ann Oncol (2012) 23 (suppl_3): 56-61.; Bonanno, George A. 2009. The other side of sadness: What the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss. New York: Basic Books.) as these may offer more ideas for “what to do”.

  6. I have lost someone really close to me and even though a lot of years have past since, even then I feel like I could have gotten a closure. I never got to say a proper good-bye and now after all these years I wish I had been there for the final moments.

    This article is really helpful and advises against the usual things we do when when we get the bad news. Losing someone is a painful experience and saying good-bye is not easy but, we still learn to live with the loss.

    I hope other people will heed your advice and avoid the mistakes that I made because no one loves to live with regrets.

    P.S. Some of the links for the images are broken, you may want to look over them.

  7. This made me a litte sad.

    As a general guide this is good and can be helpful for some people, but I think most of us dont know how are we going to react in that situation. Everybody is different and take things in different ways. I dont think I could be as cold as I need to be in that case, to think what is the proper response, I’ll probably be crying and being in denial. The intention is good but I dont think it is very applicable in reality. There is exception, like a long illness where everybody knows when it’s going to end and have more time to be prepared.

  8. While I do definitely agree with many of the sentiments in this article I do have to note a few issues I have found in it. Though I am far from the most experienced person in this topic admittedly , I have dealt with losses myself and more notably work in a medical office specializing in end of life care. This often exposing me to both the dying and their caregivers on a regular basis.

    First off on a general note I would love to have seen some tie backs to the Kubler-Ross theory, psychology wise, as to explain why some of these points may help along the sick’s descent into death.

    I think the image choose for the first heading may be uncomfortable for many, especially those seeking out advice personally and finding themselves imagining their loved one in that state.

    On the third heading in the sentence “Keeping quiet so as to let the person ‘rest’ will not make him/her happy when he/she finally dies.” the first “him/her” should be “they” (the second remaining he/she) grammatically.

    The forth heading speaks of making “happy memories” and the suggested topic of funeral arrangements does not seem to belong in this category. I have had discussions regarding this topic with a number of the caregivers I come in contact with and it is far from a happy conversation for many of them.

    Finally, I find the last bullet in number five “Soon, we’ll see each other again.” to be contradictory to the sentiments of not talking about religion and the other side discussed in the section. I also have to say I find that particular part to be universally true. Many people at the end of their lives do find comfort in their faith and when dealing with such a person I personally find that the discussion of such can be very comforting to them

    Over all I did think the style of writing was very fitting for the article and the piece to be well formatted. Also the analogy between what you would say to a friend leaving for many years and a dying loved one was a very good line that I found to be a perfect metaphor. Many strengths and some sage advice is definitely held in this piece; just a few errors that I think could have been easily corrected, but remember there is no guaranteed formula for these things

  9. The one great thing this article does is talk about a subject that mainstream American society doesn’t like to talk about. Latinos, and Native Americans I have witnesses, have specific traditions and celebrations for death and grieving.
    Many of the commentators before me, made great points, especially in the use of resources and considering other variables.
    One thing that stood out to me, is the absence of mentioning Alzheimer’s. Many who die have been afflicted with Alzheimer’s/Dementia for a number of years.
    From what I have observed, accompanying those we love in this condition as they die, is vastly different then those who are or have recently been mentally aware.
    Bravo to the writer for the courage to bring this unpleasant subject out into the light to begin with! Stay bold!

  10. Many words come to mind when considering death such as: fear, sadness, loss, and mourning, but the the one words that sticks out most among others, would be inevitable. I believe that the inevitability of death is what makes people become so frightened. Death is not only feared by those who are immediately being faced with it, but the surrounding people as well. This article did a wonderful job at sharing some insights that may help people cope with the inevitability of death, in a very light way that was easy to read. Death is often subject that is quietly tip-toed around out of fear, but when someone you know dies, it really reminds you of how fragile life can be. Though no one truly knows what happens after death, this article aided as a reminder to make peace with your life before it is over. I believe that if death was talked about more as a celebration of ones life than a loss of it, people would be less fearful of this inevitability. What do you think?

    1. I believe that would be the appropriate way of viewing it. Death, as we know it, is certain, and we will get there sooner or later. Rather than see it as one life leaving the world, we should see it as one life having fulfilled its responsibilities and moving on to the realm of the unknown.

  11. This article is obviously a depressing one, Great article but sad. Death is unavoidable and I like to think of it as a beautiful experience that many should be grateful to go through. What makes it so beautiful is that through death we shall have the answers to one of the most curious questions in the world, where or what happens when we die? Unfortunately many don’t see it that way or haven’t yet which leaves us to the process before death which this article emphasis on. All of the advice this article gives is very resourceful because personally I’ve never been through this experience, but because of this article I have the knowledge and acquired a new way to approach this situation, so I thank you.

  12. This article effectively conveyed its point on what to do when a loved one is dying. While I have not dealt with this situation, I know many that have. I never know what to say to them nevertheless what to say to someone dear to me that is dying and I feel better equipped on how to deal with this after reading this article. One idea that stood out to me is that the article mentioned to focus on realistic conversations rather than idealistic ones. I first imagined if I was nearing death and I agree that I would not want to listen to hypotheticals. Death itself is already daunting and unknown and I would rather have a more concrete conversation to alleviate that fear. Overall, I enjoyed the structure of the article, having each reason numbered and each number followed by a “what to say” subtopic, and the style of writing.


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