How to Comfort Someone When You Both Know Their Life Will End Soon

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How would you comfort someone who is very sick or even dying? How do you comfort someone when you both know his life will end very soon? ~ Matt

Hi Matt.


I wouldn’t comfort the person because to comfort would be to perceive this person as coming from a place of lack. The fact is that he isn’t, by virtue of the fact that he is still alive. I mean, he could already be dead, right? But he isn’t.

The fact that he is still alive right now and not gone yet is a blessing in itself. Even if he may be in deep (physical) pain, the fact that he is still alive allows him to do final tasks which would not have been possible if he was already dead. (For example, saying one final goodbye to his loved ones.)

So rather than comfort, I would tell the person to treasure every moment he has right now. Because every moment he is getting now is a gift. The fact that he is still alive and not gone yet is a blessing in itself. 

I assume that this person’s impending death is unavoidable. I assume that he has already sought the best medical care available out there. I assume everything has been done to salvage his situation and all experts have concluded that nothing can be done to prolong his life.

So in that case, rather than adopt a “woe is me” attitude and simply “wait” for the Grim Reaper to take him, I will also tell this person to make the best out of his remaining moments on earth. These moments, however short, are all gifts in themselves, especially when you consider that people are dying all around the world right now and he (or even you or me) could well be the next to go.

Case in point: Just a month ago, my friend’s friend’s brother who was in his early 20s died while driving. On the spot. Just like that. It was a hit-and-run. They were still looking for witnesses the last I heard.

Ask this person who is about to pass on:

  1. What are the things that he has always wanted to do but has not done yet? Of this list, what are the things he wants to take a dip in and attempt to complete before he dies?
  2. What are the things he wants to do before he/she dies? For example, tell his loved ones how much he loves them in person? Repair a broken relationship with his mom/dad? Reconnect with his long-lost brother/sister? Revisit his childhood playground? Spend a day at his favorite beach? Etc.
  3. What life lessons has he learned that he wants to pass on to his children/friends/loved ones? How about writing them down in a notebook so they can refer to it forever, in memory of him, and to live true to his lessons?
  4. Has he written his will? Division of assets following a person’s death can be a sticky matter. By writing his will, he will be saving his family much headache after he dies.
  5. What does he want people to say at his funeral? How about giving his own eulogy a go?

Ask him to get working on these items right away. In fact, you can even work on them with him. Through doing these tasks, he will be truly making the best out of his/her remaining moments, rather than withering them away in self-pity and self-loathe.

I recall three years ago, I came across this personal blog that had linked to my bucket list article. Like all blog owners, I like to check out referring URLs to my blog. This blog came up as one of the referring urls because someone had clicked on the link to my bucket list article on that blog.

So, I checked it out in curiosity. And I started reading.

Apparently the blogger’s husband/boyfriend had been stricken by a terminal disease (maybe cancer). At the time the latest entry was written, he had about nine months left to live. Devastated by the news, they pretty much started to “count down” to his final moment together while treasuring the time left.


Up until she came across the bucket list article on PE.

Reading it made her realize that there can be hope and meaning left even in one’s final moments on earth. That—hey—yes, her husband/boyfriend would be gone in nine month’s time, but at least it wasn’t six months. Or three months. Or one month. Or right there and then.

So rather than lie on the hospital bed and wait for death to take him, she got him to write down his bucket list items, which included traveling to certain destinations and completing certain quaint tasks. And they set off to “conquer” that list. “Complete the list or die doing it in the process”, was the message I took away.

That blog was created to chronicled their adventures doing his bucket list in his remaining time on earth.

Unfortunately, I lost the URL to the blog and I don’t know what happened to him or her since then. But I knew, from reading the blog, that they were already on the right path. That they were able to see light in a situation which most can only see darkness. That they were able to make the best out of what they were given rather than beat “God” down for their self-created unhappiness.

Here are two quotes I would like to leave you with:

 “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” ~ Randy Pausch (Randy Pausch is a famous lecturer from Carnegie Mellon who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006 and chose to make good of his remaining time on earth by continuing to teach through lectures, most notably The Last Lecture. He has since passed away.)

 “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.” ~ Richard Bach

We will never know when it’s our turn to go, so let’s make the best out of our remaining moments on earth, shall we? Let’s always be the best that we can be and strive to live our best life ever.


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