How do you say goodbye to someone who's dying?

In a week I will be flying down to Texas to see my great good friend who is dying of cancer. She has stage 4 glioblastoma. Her tumor is on her brain stem, as I understand it, and she has completed a round of chemo and radiation. Which her doctors told her was a course of action they took to slow the cancer down enough to allow her to get her affairs in order.

I have two days with her. I left Texas almost 12 years ago and I haven’t physically seen her since. She and I spent many years talking once every six months or so with every conversation ending with us saying how stupid it was that we only talk every six months!

So, last year we actually started talking more frequently and maybe that was the universe sending a message because three months ago she was diagnosed with her cancer.

What I want to know is, how do I… what do I… what should I do for my friend… what should I do for myself when I get there? Have any of you had to do this? How do you do this? I want to have as few regrets as possible.

I know I can trust her to tell me what she needs as I know she is very affected by the cancer. What should I be prepared for? I’m not afraid of how she’s going to look or what the physical manifestations are, I just want to know what I can do to make everything as comfortable for her as possible. I don’t want her to be worried about me, for example, when she has to take several naps during the day. I don’t want her thinking I’m put off by what cancer does to you. I want to be prepared for the reality on the ground so that I can help her not have to worry about me, and so that I can be a good friend to her when I am there. I just want to be able to care for her as much as I can, and I don’t know what to expect with cancer.

Has anyone had to do something like this? Where you know that you only have two days to say goodbye to one of your best friends? How do you do this? I know that I will just ask her what she wants. If she wants to talk about it, we’ll talk about it. If she just wants me to be funny, I’ll be funny. I know she’ll guide me, but I could really use some guidance from you all.

The closest I’ve come to your situation is hospital visits with relatives (sister-in-law and mother-in-law) who died shortly after, but there was little history between us, and the pressure was on others, not on me.

It sounds like you’ve got it together. Ask her what you can do and go from there. Thank her for letting you come.

Sorry you’re going through this, and sorry for your friend too, of course.

Sorry to hear this is happening to you and your friend. :frowning:

I think the decision of what to say in these kinds of circumstances is very personal. No matter how much you talk, of course, nobody is ever really ready to say goodbye to a loved one.
Any special memories or photos that you think would make her smile? Anything you feel it would be important to clear the air about?
Other than that, I agree with the idea of just letting her lead the way.

I’ve just been so disconnected from this whole thing. Like it’s not real. And I’m afraid I"m just going to lose it when I’m there. Even now posting about it, the tears come up but then I shut them down immediately and go back to unreality about it. I want to be present when I’m there. Maybe I need to practice processing my grief this week, allowing myself to cry about it as much as I can now. I don’t cry. Not even in private.

Be there. Tell old stories. “Remember when…” “You were right about Bob, he turned out to be a shit…”

My brother in law died almost two weeks ago now of cancer. He was not only my husband’s brother, he’d been my husbands very good friend. He’d also been my own friend from before my husband and I got together. He liked having people around him.

Few people said “goodbye” in a final way. We talked about the past. My kids came to visit and he was non-responsive, but the doctor said he could probably hear - I had them read him children’s books because when you are 12 or 13, you don’t know what to say, but I thought he’d want to hear their voices.

Also, respect other people while you are around. There were plenty of people in my brother in laws life, and in order to get him the rest he needed to be comfortable and allow people to see him who really wanted to, and to keep the hospital room from looking like a European soccer game, we almost needed a bouncer. Don’t make the sister in law be the bouncer…:slight_smile:

On the tears, most people pulled through in his presence - which in some ways, in this case, made it worse as there was some amount of denial over how fast everything was happening. You’ll probably surprise yourself with your inner strength not to loose it while you are there.

I was lucky to be there for my sister’s final days and my mom’s final days. One thing I am happy I did was, during a quiet moment, I took her had, looked her in the eyes and said “I love you.” Nothing additional, just that.

I’m so sorry you and your friend are going through this. <hugs>

I do think it’s maybe a good idea to let yourself process some of that grief now. Certainly your friend has had a little time to do so, but who knows: maybe she’ll be the one to finally be able to break down with you, after having to be strong for everyone else. I would not worry about that part; it was never going to be easy, anyway.

What I do think would be a really nice idea is figure out what you two can be doing together during those two days. Obviously, if she’s hospital-bound, there are limits, but…Bring that one movie you two always wanted to watch, or DID watch and loved so much you can quote from it. If she isn’t strong enough to write for herself at this point, ask if you can be her stenographer for any letters or last-wishes she wants people to have in writing from her. (Not legal ones, though she may need that too, just…those things maybe we can’t say in person no matter what, but that we want to clear up before we go. We all have those.)
Heck, if she’s computer-literate, beg-borrow a laptop or something and show her videos that you like, or are funny, or are goofy, of your recent life, whatever. Bonus points if she’s NOT computer literate :slight_smile:

Share. Just…share.

Hey, Carol…this is a good idea. I got to learn a lot of different ways of getting the pain and sorrow out on my own time, during my brother’s decline last year. You know what I found really helps? Crying your face off when you need to. Loudly, with lots of snot and sobbing. My favorite place was in the shower, it also helps muffle some of the wailing if you, like me, are a little self conscious about that and don’t want to alarm the neighbors. Anyway, with a little practice, I did find that I could manage better on a day-to-day basis if I wasn’t expending so much energy trying to hold it all in. So, maybe start by letting some of it out. You may be able to focus on your friend without so much of your own anguish pressing down on you. Not easy, I know, if you’re not in the habit. I don’t mean to get all Rosey Grier on you, but letting it out helps.

For your friend, human touch may be very welcome - just holding hands, or some light massage if she can stand it. I spent my brother’s last few days with him; I washed his hair, and took him for massage the day before he died. The woman from hospice told me that sometimes, when people are in a lot of pain or discomfort, they are too distracted by it to “let go”. I do think that he was finally comfortable enough at that point, and his passing was peaceful and easy for him. A little contact may say a lot of things you might not be able to put into words.

Whatever happens, you won’t regret having made the time to spend with her. I wish you and your friend a good reunion. You’re doing a great thing.

Like **lavenderviolet **said, it really depends on the person, the circumstances, and the relationship you had with that person.

My mother died of cancer when I was 23. It was a long time coming, so we all had time to prepare. When it was clear that the end was near, I wrote her a letter. I told her that she had been a great mother to me, and I hoped that my wife-to-be (I was soon to be married) and I would be half as good as she had been. I told her I loved her.

I guess I wanted her to know she had done a great job, and we would be okay. Of course, it’s different if it’s a friend. Again, the particulars matter. But just think about what, 6 months from now or a year from now, you will be sorry you didn’t say.

What they said. Tell you that you love her. Tell her about something neat that she did for you that she may not even realize meant a lot to you. Talk about funny (or only-funny-years-later) things that happened to the two of you.

This thread is helping me cry, y’all. Thank you.

Nothing wrong with crying! Crap I am crying just reading and typing this.

And I think others here have given good advice. I not too long ago went through the whole “person I care about dying thing”. I honestly wanted to just run away. I don’t deal well with death. But in this instance I said “damnit, I AM going to be there the bestest I can”. And I think I was. And I went through and did lots of what folks here have mentioned.

And I am glad I did.

But, I want to forwarn you. You’ll be damn glad you did it. And your friend will be damn glad you did it. But it’s gonna suck. Suck like you can’t imagine suck if you have’t been through this sorta thing before. And keep in mind the whole sick person / hospital thing is NOT like the 70’s Soap Opera version. All kinds of nasty and unpleasant things well may occur. Brace yourself.

Good on you for doing it and God Bless.

Actually, she’s at home. She’s not at the stage yet where she’s in the hospital. Her death isn’t imminent (as in the next few days or weeks), but she will die within a matter of months. It’s just that this is the last time I’m going to see her. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear.

Still, it’s me saying goodbye to her because I know I’m never going to see her again until I fly back down for the funeral.

Okay, she’s at home. Still keep in mind she might not be in as good a shape as she seems on the phone/internet. And something like a seizure or something can still happen.

On the upside she sounds to be in mostly good shape and is home. That will make your visit better in many ways than the ole last days in the hospital one.

But here is where it’s gonna realllly suck. In the last days in the hospital you are there and they pass and it sucks but you did all you could if you were there to the end.

In the visit but leave there are two really bad parts. First, that final goodbye is gonna be the worst damn goodbye you ever had. Personally I think that might be worse than the watching the last breath in the hospital thing. But here’s the real kicker. During and after that goodbye you are going to most likely beat yourself up for leaving. Couldn’t I just stay one more day? Two? A week? Hell, whats my crappy job in comparision to be with someone important to me in their last days? Damn I seem selfish…

I am sorry I seem like such a downer. I hope I am helping by preparing you and I honestly hope it goes as well as such things can.

The other thing you might consider if she’s in good enough shape physically, is a drive out to the (beach, forest, wheat fields, apple farm, mall, aquarium, whatever). Make another good memory with her while she is still able. God knows folks who are on their last legs get sick of all the white coats and med schedules and bed rest and walkers and such. Go get the wind in her hair, take her to her favorite place. You’ll both feel better.

I’m really sorry you are going through this. It is very hard. Going to see her is a tremendous gift.

There are lots of great suggestions in this thread. Taking her on an outing that is not too taxing is a wonderful idea.

You know your friend best. Is she embracing the “stark reality” of her prognosis, and determined to wrap up her affairs in an orderly fashion? Or do you sense she wants hope, wants to be positiive, wants to fight and prove the doctors wrong? Or maybe she just wants a diversion, a kind of “break” from the daily and unavoidable facts of her illness? You will have to trust your own judgement and read her needs.

If you feel she wants hope, wants to be positive, or wants diversion, then consider downplaying the “final good-bye” aspect of this trip. You may want to tell her that you have every expectation of visiting again in XX months time. Of course, you absolutely must have the honest intention of visiting your friend again at that time. Having that as a goal may be good for her and may be good for you.

Doctors will be the first to tell you that they are not always right about how these things will go. I am not trying to give you false hope or imply some sort of miracle might happen. I am only saying one just can’t know in definite terms how these things will happen and how long a person will live.

The last summer my wife was alive, on no less than three occasions (starting in early June) I was told by her doctor that the end was near (like “by this weekend” near.) My wife lived until the end of September. Her goal was to make it to Christmas and then see where she could go from there. She wanted hope, she was determined to prove our oncologist wrong, so she never went into hospice (because she felt that would be the end of hope), and we never had a “good-bye” type moment until she had literally breathed her last and I whispered in her ear that I would always love her.

I was OK with not ever saying good-bye until then, and with not ever hearing it from her, but only because that was how she wanted it. Your friend may feel similarly, or she may want to share tears and fears the whole time you are down there. There is no right or wrong way, except maybe that it would be wrong to try to conform with someone else’s expectations about how it should be.

Also, you said you trust her to tell you what she wants, but (again, depending on the person) she may not actually be able to verbalize that. You know her best, but sometimes people are so overwhelmed by the grim reality of a terminal disease that they become kind of helpless and unable to effectively communicate their wants and needs. You may have to do some “mind-reading.”

In the end, it will be up to you to read her emotional needs. You are obviously a good friend to her, so you will do whatever is the right thing for both of you.

Have a safe trip. When it is done, I hope both of you will be able to treasure the memory of your visit.

Be there for her as best you can and as is appropriate for what she needs.

Hug her, hold her. Not if she’s uncomfortable with it, though.

Tell her you love her.

Ask her what she needs, what she wants. If you can do it, do it.

Let where she is with all this guide you – some people can talk openly about this process, some can’t bear it.

You have been in each other’s lives for a long time. She will always be with you, though not so readily available … just in another room, on a different journey. Send her on her way with love.

And be gentle with yourself – loss is painful and to face that pain and bear up under is not so easy. That’s the hardest part of this – all the things unsaid and undone, all the shared experiences foreclosed. Celebrate what is, what was, the gift of this person in your life. Share this with your other friends and loved ones – this may make it easier. If you need help processing there are “bereavement groups” where people meet and talk out their experiences and share their losses. Sometimes that is very useful.

And you have us, too.

I wish you all best with you and your friend.

Yeah, she doesn’t seem to want to talk about the emotional reality. The nuts and bolts of her treatment and the physical aspects, yes. That’s ok, it’s her process.

Then do your best to wear it lightly. Respond as she needs it and as you can.

Not so easy, I know – the looming prospect of the end of days is the 500 pound gorilla in the room – but really, you know, it’s there for everyone, we just don’t see it going about our daily routines, we could never get anything done if we did. Attention is drawn to it when people have life-taking experiences like this.

It’s good that you’re going to see your old friend.

She probably wants to hear the people she loves are going to be okay. Shine a positive light on wherever they are in life.

Don’t be afraid to touch her, get into her bed and snuggle. If that’s not possible, touch her face. Kiss her face, gentle puppy kisses. She will feel your tenderness for her.

Laugh. Make her laugh. Enjoy something she loves to eat together, her favorite film. Some awesome tunes, maybe.

Before you leave her side, in a quiet moment, perhaps, share with her how blessed you’ve always felt by her being in your life. It’s okay to tell someone they help hold up the sky in your world. And everyone wants to hear you’ll never forget the very best of what they were.

I am so sorry for the challenges you face, I wish you peace and calm through it all. Good Luck!