Important tip in communicating with the dying

Dr. Saul Ebema

For lots of people, “the thought of dying provokes so much fear and apprehension as does the thought of death itself. It is in this context of fear and apprehension, that the process of dying becomes a forbidden topic.”[1]

Some of the reasons for the difficulty many individuals have in communicating with dying persons are; not wanting to face the reality of one’s own death, not having the time to become involved, and not feeling emotionally able to handle the intensity of the situation.

For some people, “talking with a dying person evokes more guilt, causing them to avoid interacting with a dying loved one.”[2]

The discomfort in being with the dying can manifest itself through outright avoidance, or in difficulty in speaking or maintaining eye contact with the dying person. It can also be expressed in maintaining a physical distance, uneasiness about touching the dying person. “This may result in over concern, hyperactivity, or manipulative, impersonal behavior or changing the subject.”[3]

Some of the ways communication with the dying can be improved is by practicing active listening. Patients who are terminally ill and dying need to be heard and know they are not alone.

It is essential to create an environment in which the person feels free to explore their concerns and openly express their feelings without feeling rejected or judged. Active listening involves many skills and components such as; relaxed yet engaged body posture, eye contact, reassuring touch, listening beyond or beneath the literal words said by a person to the deeper emotions, meaning, and needs.

Active listening;

  • Affirms personhood, self-worth, and dignity.
  • Decreases isolation.
  • Allows the person to find their own answers.
  • Assumes the individuality of each dying person’s needs.


[1] Lea Baider, “The Silent Message: Communication in a Family with a Dying Patient.” Journal of Marriage and Family Counseling 3 (1977): 3- 28.

 [2]Rita J. Epley and Charles H. McCaghy, “The Stigma of Dying: Attitudes toward the Terminally Ill.” The Journal of Death and Dying 8 (1977–78):1- 32.

 [3] Baider, The Silent Message. 24

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