How To Comfort Someone When Their Life Will End Soon

“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, this is a difficult question. 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, even though it may be hard to see it as anything else when a person is heading toward death.

I assume that this person’s impending death is unavoidable. I assume that he has already sought all possible therapies, including alternative ones, to reverse his health condition. (There have been many people who have healed themselves from what were declared to them as incurable diseases.) I assume everything has been done to help him heal and all experts have concluded that nothing can be done for his condition.

In that case, rather than “wait” for death to take him, I would also tell this person to make the best out of his remaining moments on earth. These moments, even though short, are all gifts in themselves when you consider that people are dying all around the world right now and he (or even you or me) could be the next to go.

For example, someone I knew passed away one morning while on the way to work. He was in a car accident. He was in his 40s, young, fit, excelling in his career, with a great life and future ahead. It was especially sad as he was a family man and left behind a wife and three kids. He never had a chance to say goodbye.

In the same year, my husband’s ex-colleague passed away suddenly from a heart attack. He was in his 40s, healthy and well, with no pre-existing illnesses.

The recent COVID pandemic also saw some of us losing loved ones — one moment they are well, and the next moment they aren’t, and suddenly they’re gone.

Ask this person who is about to pass on:

  1. What are things he has always wanted to do but hasn’t done yet? In 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 that they can refer to them forever, in memory of him, and 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 passes away.
  5. What does he want people to say at his funeral? How about giving his own eulogy a go?
  6. Any wrongs that he would like to right before he goes?

Ask him to get working on these items right away. In fact, you can 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.

Three years ago, I came across this personal blog that linked to my bucket list article. This blog came up as a referral url to my blog because someone had clicked on the link to my bucket list article on that blog, and I saw it in my web tracker.

So I checked it out of curiosity. And I started reading.

Apparently, the blogger’s husband/boyfriend had been stricken by a terminal disease (it was not indicated what). At the time the latest entry was written, he had about nine months left to live. Devastated by the news, they started to “count down” to his final moment together while treasuring the time left.

Then 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 months, 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 chronicle 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 where most can only see darkness. That they were able to make the best out of what they were given rather than beat “God” down.

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 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 all our moments on earth, shall we? Let’s always be the best that we can be and strive to make the best out of our time on earth.