Supporting a sick loved one

  • Sit while talking-gives equality to the person who is dying
  • Keep it quiet-dying is hard work
  • Surround the person with the positive things in their life-pictures, mementos, flowers, smells, etc.
  • Listen more, talk less-this is the time for the person who is dying to set the agenda
  • Don't rely just on words to communicate-use touch, music, etc.
  • Don't talk about the person as if he or she isn't there-they need to still feel connected to the world.

The person who is dying knows it's happening, yet may feel uncomfortable talking about it because of the discomfort shown by loved ones. Wait until they bring up the topic and then listen to what they want to talk about before saying anything. Sometimes the person dying may never want to talk about it.

story: Husband who knew he was dying and didn't want to talk about it to his wife because he felt she didn't know. His wife, who knew he was dying, didn't want to talk about it to her husband because she didn't think he knew he was dying. When they became honest with each other, both became more peaceful.


Dying is often made more difficult by the person's belief that he or she can't be forgiven for something done in the past or won't have an opportunity to forgive something unskillful done to them. Forgiving the person who is dying and asking them for forgiveness for an unskillful act can ease the anxiety associated with death.

story: Young man with AIDS mistook me for his son and forgave me for not caring for him when he became ill. I accepted his forgiveness and he became peaceful. Also the story of a women who abandoned her children when they were young and wrote a letter that would be delivered to them after she died asking them for forgiveness.


Dying is hard work. Many look back on their lives and wonder what kind of impact they have made. To have someone chronicle the good they have done in the past, how it's effecting the present, and it's legacy into the future can be very comforting.

story: While a woman was getting close to actively dying, her sister and I read emails to her from people whose lives she had positively effected for 25 years.


Sometimes, despite great physical pain who are dying will often linger until they believe their loved ones are ready to accept their death.

One of the greatest gifts to a person who is dying is to give them permission to let go of life. Often a simple phrase such as "I know how hard this is for you. I'm ready for you to let go.

I've always loved you and I'll miss you. But I know you're ready, and so am I." These were the words of a 78 year old woman to her 57 year old daughter.

story: 57 year old woman held on to life until her mother told her how much she loved her, how much she would miss her, and how it was alright to leave.

About the book:

"Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life," chronicles the experiences of Stan Goldberg, who after developing prostate cancer, was welcomed into the lives of people who were dying.

As a bedside hospice volunteer for the last seven years, he learned lessons on accepting illness, how to ease the emotional pain of dying, and how to live joyfully as if every day was his last.

>> Buy this book on Amazon: Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life

About Stan Goldberg:

Stan Goldberg is a Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University who has authored 7 books, more than 100 articles and has made presentations around the world on loss, change, and end-of-life issues.

For the past seven years he has served as a bedside hospice volunteer throughout the Bay Area. He currently volunteers with Pathways Home Health and Hospice and is the HEAL Project's 2009 Volunteer of the Year.

He is working on his eighth book, I Want My Life Back: A Blueprint for Regaining Joy. New articles appear weekly on his blog which can be found on his website: and on

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