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Blog: Stories and Insight

Saying Goodbye to Someone Who Died or is Dying

Saying goodbye to someone can be important to you. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or colleague, you may feel a strong desire to say a final farewell if they have died or are nearing the end of life.

You may be lucky and get the chance, but for others the opportunity is missed because of an unexpected death or simply feeling uncomfortable acknowledging the end is near.

The following tips will help guide you in expressing farewell, helping you heal from the loss, and remembering your loved one’s memory. If the person you care about is still living, these tips can help you communicate your goodbye in ways that bring peace and comfort to you both.

How to say goodbye when the end is near

How you say goodbye to someone who is dying should be based on both of your needs. For example, you may need to feel heard and be emotionally connected with each other. But, someone who is dying may feel negative emotions, such as fear, confusion, or anger over their situation.

Think about what you want to do or say ahead of time, and be flexible if the person you care about responds in a way that surprises you. They may be either more or less open to your goodbye than you expect.

Here are some ideas to consider when saying goodbye to someone who is dying:

  • Be there for your loved one as best you can. Sometimes just keeping this person company, even without talking or doing anything, means the most. The best gift is the gift of time.
  • Focus on key, loving messages. In the book “The Four Things that Matter Most,” author Ira Byock identifies these important messages to communicate with loved ones near the end of life: “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.” Expressing these sentiments can help bring a sense of peace and completeness to both of you.
  • It’s ok to laugh. Losing a loved one is painful, but it doesn’t mean you can’t share stories, tell jokes, and reminisce about your favorite times together.

Get help from a hospice team. If your loved one is receiving hospice care, talk to the members of the care team if they are upset or you feel uncomfortable. The social worker and spiritual support counselors can help focus on feelings and concerns, help with goodbyes, and help you handle grief and loss.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh

How to say goodbye after someone has died

If you didn’t get to say goodbye to the person before they passed you care about you could feel greater pain about their loss. Here are a few tips to help ease your grief.

  • Say goodbye. Find yourself a private, quiet location. It could be in your house or a place that was special to the person you care about. Bring an object or photo that symbolizes their life or your memories together. Take this moment to say anything you need to say.
  • Write a goodbye. Writing a letter, diary entry, poem, or email can provide an outlet for your emotional or physical pain. Speak directly to the person you care about when you write. Tell them everything you would have like to have said while they were alive. Later, when you are burdened by the feeling of not having said goodbye, reread your writing. You can also start a journal to record memories of your loved one as they come to you.
  • Communicate with others. Share memories of your loved one with other friends and family to feel connected to them.

Are you mourning a loss? Samaritan offers a wide range of grief support services
in Southern New Jersey. Visit
Grief Support Resources to learn more.

  • Create a ritual. A ritual can help you heal and give you an opportunity to reflect on your loved one’s life. You can release a biodegradable balloon with a message inside, place flowers on their grave, or scatter their ashes in a meaningful place (Check local and state regulations). You can conduct the ritual alone or with a group of close friends and family.
  • Make a vision board. Gather images from magazines or other sources that remind you of your loved one, and glue them to a poster board. A vision board can help you retrieve happy memories and feel close to your loved one.
  • Create a memorial. Raise money or volunteer for a charity that has a connection to your loved one. Or donate money to have your loved one’s name placed on a park bench or other memorial that supports a worthwhile cause.
  • Call up happy memories. Remember your loved one and feel close to them by listening to special music or making a playlist, looking through old photos, watching a favorite TV show, or reading a certain book. Remembering past times with them can help you say goodbye.

Coping with difficult feelings over not saying goodbye to someone who has died

temp imageIf you continue to struggle with guilt or anxiety over not saying goodbye before your loved one’s death, these strategies can help:

  • Refocus your thoughts. Think about a happy memory of your loved one or visualize them forgiving you. Shifting your attention from negative to positive thoughts takes practice, but it’s a powerful technique that can help you deal with many types of unwanted thinking.
  • Get help. A grief support group or individual grief counseling may be helpful if you continue to struggle with feelings of guilt, anger, regret or resentment, or if you are having a difficult time dealing with the emotional, mental, physical or spiritual aspects of grief. If your loved one received hospice care, you are eligible for 13 months bereavement support after the loss of your loved one. Please ask your hospice team about this benefit.

To learn more about grief-support resources, support groups, or end-of-life care in Southern New Jersey, please call Samaritan at (800) 229-8183.