Myths About How to Act Around Someone Who’s Dying
People often adhere to a code of conduct about the end of life that’s just not rooted in common sense or reality — especially when it comes to how to talk to someone who’s dying, in their final days or hours. Hospice nurse Maggie Callanan, who has attended more than 2,000 deaths, wrote her book Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life in order to take on these myths:
Myth: Don’t cry in front of the dying.
They know you’re sad. Having the courage to bare your emotions gives the dying person permission to be candid about his or her own feelings. Your tears are evidence of your love. And they can also be a relief to the person, telegraphing that you understand what’s happening.
Myth: Keep the children away.
People often steer kids away from death so they’ll remember the person in a good light and not be frightened. But most kids do well with simple explanations of what’s happening; facts are usually less scary than their vivid imaginations. By cordoning off a child from a natural part of life, you also deprive the dying person of a beloved, comforting presence.
Myth: Don’t talk about how you expect your life will change after the dying person has passed away.
It’s not like they’ll feel left out. You can be sure the dying person is thinking about your life after his or her death — people are often deeply concerned about this. It’s reassuring to hear that loved ones will look after one another.
Myth: If you don’t deal with death well, it’s OK to stay away.
Some people excuse themselves from visiting a dying person with phrases like, “I hate hospitals” or “I want to remember X the way she was.” This is saying that your discomfort is more important than the dying person’s final needs.
“You have a responsibility,” Callanan says. “If someone has played a positive part in your life, that person deserves your attention as his or her life is ending. I’ve seen too many devastated people dying too sadly, waiting for someone who never came.”
By Paula Spencer, Caring.com senior editor