The Challenge of a Loved One Who is Dying

There are no specific guidelines about when to talk about end of life issues with someone who has a life threatening illness but here are some ideas to consider ---

Everyone has the right to be told they can’t be fixed, to be given the opportunity to address the “loose ends” of their life. 

To be told you have a serious illness with dying at the end, your journey now is to proceed as if you've been given a gift, a gift of time.

Deciding not to “tell mom she can’t be fixed" takes away that gift. Who are we (yes, even family) to determine what a person needs to or does not need to know about themselves? 

What a person does with the information is also their choice. Most people will react the same way they have reacted and dealt with every other challenge in their life. A person who runs away from challenges will be in denial. A person who is a fixer of challenges will take charge of the direction they choose.

I find it sad when no one will be “real” with a person who is facing the end of their life. Most of us are uncomfortable talking about or even acknowledging decline and the evidence of approaching death but that need not stop us from trying.

The depth of our relationship with the person with a life threatening illness will determine how openly we discuss end of life with them. This is not a time for games that all is going to be okay, “we are going to beat this enemy.” Instead, it is time to talk about love and memories, fears and concerns.

If you are part of a family dealing with the challenge of a loved one dying you can and should begin a conversation with other family members at any point from diagnosis on. Bring out the possibilities and discuss them. Actually, we should all have these kinds of conversations before we are faced with them. 

If a casual friend, neighbor, or church member is dealing with a life threatening illness you probably want to wait until they begin a conversation about their life situation. If anyone opens the conversation door don’t hesitate to begin listening and offering information. Sometimes it is easier to talk about these matters with someone not as close to us as family. 

Something More...  about The Challenge of a Loved One Who is Dying

I wrote a booklet called A Time To Live: Living With a Life Threatening Illness when my step-father was diagnosed with lung cancer.  It supports the person by addressing issues of comfort, nutrition, and sleep as they relate to the palliative care patient. It provides guidance to help them live the best life they can within the confines of their body and disease.  The family should have a copy of GONE FROM MY SIGHT: The Dying Experience so that they can understand and watch for signs that the dying process has begun and what to do when that happens.  Both of these booklets are in the End of Life Guideline Series bundle.

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Jeanie Holmes
I think people know you are right, but it is too easy to not start that hard discussion you talk about. Thank you for bringing up the subject. Your answers are always spot on. JH
Masa Yoshiba

Dear Barbara,

I’ve read some of your books and they helped me a lot while I was with my wife dying. She passed almost 7 years ago.

I could not tell my wife that she was in the process.
I was not sure if she wanted to know or not.
After I read your advice, I am now feeling very bad that I did not tell her although I am pretty sure she knew…..

I am very sorry…..
BK Books replied:
Masa, in caring for your wife you did the best you could with
the knowledge and support that you had. Regrets now, after learning
something different, serves nothing.You might write your wife a note and
tell her your thoughts, even how you are doing now. Then burn the note and
scatter the ashes to the wind. Let how well you live your life be the gift
of love you have for her. Blessings! Barbara


This is probably the most awkward time for loved ones and the dying, how to talk about the death journey. So far out of our comfort zone. Thank you for bringing this into the light.

Jorge Astacio

Always love and learn from all if yours advices and information you provide. Keep up the good work, many blessings for u!!


Thank you for this piece. We need to be loving, caring and very honest.

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