Saying goodbye is not easy. There comes a time when it’s necessary to say good-bye to a terminally ill loved one, and it’s not easy. But letting go is one of the most powerful expressions of faith and parting gifts you can offer to them.

How to say goodbye – what to talk about and when – doesn’t come naturally to most adults. The irony is that these conversations include what people appreciate hearing at any time of life: words of candor, reassurance, and love.

Lessons In Letting Someone Go

Lesson #1: Don’t regret not saying what you want them to know

Putting off meaningful conversations is perhaps the number one source of regret. Dying people want to hear three specific messages from their loved ones:

  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “I love you.”


Lesson #2: It’s okay, even comforting to someone, that you know the end is near

The dying person usually knows what’s happening. When those in the room don’t talk about it, it’s like a purple hippo in a tutu that everyone is ignoring. The person who’s dying starts to wonder if nobody else gets it. This stresses them. It helps to reassure the dying person that you understand and are ready to let them go; in a way, you’re granting them permission to leave this world.


Lesson #3: Follow the dying person’s lead

If the person talks about impending death, either directly or indirectly through metaphor, allow them to talk. Do not correct the person with “No, you’re not dying.” A helpful response is “Tell me more.”


Lesson #4: Truth is good – but so is a little sugar coating

Being reassured that loved ones will fare well without them helps people feel they can go peacefully. Help your loved one see that he or she made a difference in the world or simply within the family, providing them with the sense that their life had meaning.


Lesson #5: Talk even if you’re not sure you’re being heard

Hearing is the last sense to go. Always assume that a person who’s unconscious, in a coma, or unresponsive can still hear you. Say what’s in your heart.


Lesson #6: Stay in the present – don’t get ahead of yourself


Lesson #7: Trust your instincts, not “the rules”

Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right way to behave. There are no rules when saying goodbye, just these lessons which may make it easier for you.


Lesson #8: You’ll feel better if you’re not bidding a final farewell every time you leave

Not knowing if your parting is the final one brings the happiest of visits to an uncertain juncture. That’s why it helps to have expressed love, appreciation, forgiveness and reassurance in an ongoing way.


Lesson #9: You can speak volumes without uttering a word

It’s hard to say goodbye – but you don’t have to “say” anything. Most critical: Just show up. Be there. Foot rubs, stroking an arm or shoulder, kisses, smiles and gazing into someone’s eyes all communicate compassion, love and gratitude for a shared lifetime. Your presence and your touch rank among the most eloquent, regret-free ways there are to say goodbye.


Permission to die

Giving permission to let go to people you love, because they may feel guilty for leaving or because you need them to meet your own needs, is an extraordinary final gift to them. A dying person will normally hold on, even though it brings prolonged discomfort, in order to be sure that those left behind will be all right. Therefore, your ability to assure this person that it is all right to let go when he or she is ready, is one of the greatest gifts you have to give at this time.

Tears are also a normal and natural part of saying goodbye. Crying does not need to be hidden from your loved one or apologized for. Tears express your love, as well as sadness, and will help you both let go.

Saying goodbye gives both you and your loved one closure… making the final release possible.


About the Author

Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, was formerly an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager for Complete Care Strategies (Elder Connections)

Complete Care Strategies consists of care managers, specialized human service professionals, who advocate and direct the care of seniors and others facing ongoing health challenges. Working with families, its expertise provides the answers at a time of uncertainty. Along with its licensed home care division, it can help clients safely remain at home under the watchful eye of skilled professionals. Families are afforded an integrated model of care that, with guidance and advocacy, lead them to the actions and decisions that ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love