What to say to someone who is dying? Examples for all scenarios

When faced with the reality of a loved one or friend who is dying, it can be challenging to find the right words to say. We understand the weight that these conversations carry, and the desire to provide comfort, encouragement, and support. In this article, we will explore various approaches to help you navigate these difficult situations, offering examples of comforting phrases and spiritual words, as well as guidance on how to talk to someone with a terminal illness, a cancer diagnosis, or in hospice care.

In this guide:

How to comfort someone who is dying?

When comforting someone who is actively dying, your presence and empathy are often more powerful than any words. However, it’s essential to communicate your love and support while acknowledging their emotions and experiences.

  • Listen: Allow the person to share their thoughts and feelings without interrupting or offering advice. Be a compassionate listener, giving them the space to express themselves.
  • Validate their emotions: Recognize the person’s feelings by saying something like, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here to support you.”
  • Offer physical comfort: Depending on your relationship, gentle touch, such as holding their hand, can provide reassurance and connection.
  • Share memories: Remind them of happy times or meaningful experiences you’ve shared, reinforcing your bond and the positive impact they’ve had on your life.
  • Acknowledge their legacy: Let them know how they’ve made a difference in your life and the lives of others.

Examples of encouraging words to say to someone who is terminally ill

When speaking with someone who has received a terminal diagnosis, it’s crucial to offer encouragement and hope, while remaining sensitive to their emotional state. Here are some examples of encouraging words:

  • “I’m here for you, and I’ll support you through this journey, no matter what.”
  • “You’re strong, and I believe in your ability to face this challenge.”
  • “We’ll get through this together, one day at a time.”
  • “I admire your courage and resilience in facing this situation.”
  • “I will cherish the time we have left together, making the most of every moment.”

Examples of Spiritual words to someone who is dying

If the person you’re speaking to has spiritual beliefs, it may be comforting to discuss their faith and the hope it provides. Keep in mind that you should be respectful of their beliefs, even if they differ from your own. Some examples of spiritual words include:

  • “I’m praying for you and your family during this difficult time.”
  • “May you find peace and comfort in your faith.”
  • “Your spirit is strong, and I know it will guide you through this journey.”
  • “God/Higher Power is with you, providing strength and solace.”
  • “I hope that you can find solace in the knowledge that you will be reunited with your loved ones in the afterlife.”

What to say to someone who received a cancer diagnosis?

When someone you care about receives a cancer diagnosis, it’s essential to offer your support and understanding. Here are some suggestions for what to say:

  • “I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I’m here for you in any way that you need.”
  • “It’s okay to feel scared or angry. We’ll face this challenge together.”
  • “You don’t have to go through this alone. I’ll be by your side every step of the way.”
  • “I know this is overwhelming, but I believe in your strength and resilience.”
  • “We’ll tackle each obstacle as it comes, and I’ll be here to help you navigate your treatment and recovery.”

What do you say to someone in hospice?

When someone is in hospice care, the focus is on providing comfort and quality of life during their final days. In these moments, it’s essential to offer emotional support, love, and a sense of peace. Here are some suggestions for what to say to someone in hospice:

  • “I love you, and I’m grateful for the time we’ve spent together.”
  • “Thank you for the impact you’ve had on my life. You’ve made a real difference.”
  • “It’s okay to let go when you’re ready. I’ll be here with you until the end.”
  • “I’ll make sure to carry on your legacy and keep your memory alive.”
  • “You’re not alone; we’re all here for you, surrounding you with love and support.”

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that the most meaningful gift you can offer someone who is dying or facing a terminal illness is your presence, love, and support. By using the examples and guidance in this article, you can provide comfort and encouragement during these challenging times. Remain authentic and empathetic in your conversations, and know that your care and compassion can make a significant difference in their experience.

What should you not say?

When speaking to someone who is dying, it’s crucial to be sensitive, empathetic, and mindful of the words you choose. Here are some things to avoid saying to ensure that your conversation remains supportive and compassionate:

  1. Minimizing their experience: Avoid phrases like “Everything will be fine” or “It’s not that bad,” as they can seem dismissive of the person’s feelings and experiences.
  2. Offering unsolicited advice: Refrain from providing medical advice, suggesting alternative treatments, or pushing your beliefs on the person, as this may create more stress or confusion.
  3. Comparing their situation: Avoid comparing their experience to others or sharing stories about people who have faced similar challenges. This can make the person feel like their experience is being trivialized or that they are not being seen as an individual.
  4. Focusing on the negative: While it’s essential to acknowledge the reality of the situation, avoid dwelling on the negative aspects or discussing worst-case scenarios, as this can increase anxiety and fear.
  5. Avoiding the topic altogether: While it’s important to be sensitive, completely avoiding discussions about death or the person’s condition can make them feel isolated and unsupported.
  6. Making it about yourself: Keep the focus on the person who is dying and their experiences. Sharing your own fears, regrets, or grief may shift the attention away from their needs and feelings.
  7. Over-promising: Be realistic about the level of support and time you can provide. It’s better to be honest about your limitations than to make promises you cannot keep.
  8. Using clichés: Phrases like “They’re in a better place now” or “Time heals all wounds” may feel trite and impersonal. Instead, focus on genuine and personal expressions of empathy and support.

Remember that your presence, empathy, and active listening are often more meaningful than the specific words you use. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and simply express your love, support, and willingness to be there for the person during this difficult time.

What Academic Research Suggests We Should Do To Comfort Those Who Are Dying

Presence and active listening: Being present, both physically and emotionally, is essential in providing comfort. Listening to the person’s thoughts and feelings without judgment can help create a supportive environment (Hansen, 2012).

Emotional support: Offering emotional support by acknowledging and validating the person’s emotions and experiences can help them feel understood and less isolated (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).

Practical assistance: Providing practical help, such as assistance with daily activities or coordinating care, can alleviate some of the stress and burden experienced by the dying person and their family (McPherson, Wilson, & Murray, 2007).

Spiritual and existential support: Engaging in conversations about spirituality, life meaning, and legacy can provide comfort and promote a sense of peace for the dying person (Chochinov et al., 2005).


  1. Chochinov, H. M., Hack, T., Hassard, T., Kristjanson, L. J., McClement, S., & Harlos, M. (2005). Dignity therapy: A novel psychotherapeutic intervention for patients near the end of life. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 23(24), 5520-5525. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2005.08.391
  2. Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.
  3. McPherson, C. J., Wilson, K. G., & Murray, M. A. (2007). Feeling like a burden to others: A systematic review focusing on the end of life. Palliative Medicine, 21(2), 115-128. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269216307076345
  4. Hansen, Paul. (2012). Preliminary Analysis of Midlevel Practitioners on Pain and Health-Related Quality of Life and Function for a Palliative Care Service at a Comprehensive Cancer Center. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 15(2), 132-134. https://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2011.0486