Ministering in Christ's name: Death and dying

"The living know that they will die." Ecclesiastes 9:5

Here are suggestions on ministry to a dying person

How to be with a dying person

Americans often avoid everything about death, including those who are most rapidly approaching it. That's sad because Barney Spivack, director of Geriatric Medicine for the Stamford (Connecticut) Health System, says, "In all my years of working with dying people, I've never heard one say 'I want to die alone.'" Dying people are comforted by the company of others. The benefit of a visit far outweighs whatever awkwardness there may be.

Six "don'ts" for visitors to the dying

1. Don't stay away.
Get close physically. Sit at eye level. Do not be afraid to touch. The physical presence of another human being is a powerful comfort and source of strength.
2. Don't overpower the person by babbling.
Let the dying person set the conversational pace. Do not be afraid of silence.
3. Don't contradict someone or abruptly change the subject when they say they are going to die.
There is nothing unhealthy about accepting approaching death. So, listen and empathize. Allow the person to express anger, guilt, and/or fear without feeling you are supposed to "fix" things.
4. Don't take over all the decision-making.
Empower the dying person to make decisions for as long as possible. Avoiding talking about unfinished business is not going to postpone death. Ask: "Who can I contact for you?" Remember that we can never tie up all the loose ends in life.
5. Don't avoid talking about the past.
Reminisce about happy memories. Do not suppress laughter just because a doctor has said death is just around the corner.
6. Don't miss opportunities to express love or to say goodbye.
Remember: there may not be a tomorrow.

Based on material in "The Ultimate Emotional Challenge" by Louise Lague, published in "Start the Conversation," a pull-out section in Modern Maturity. Used here under the "fair use" provisions of U.S. copyright law.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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