Dying relative - what to say?
April 21, 2009 6:57 PM   Subscribe

My uncle has one week to live. I'm visiting him tomorrow. What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do?
posted by jennyhead to Human Relations (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There isn't any right answer to this. Follow your heart. Say hi. Smile. Tell him you love him and that you'll miss him. Ask him if there is anything you can do.
posted by ian1977 at 7:01 PM on April 21, 2009

Tell him what you'll remember most about him. When my dad was dying, he really enjoyed reminiscing with people (especially funny/silly stuff), and I think it comforted him to know he'd made an impact on people's lives and that he would be remembered.
posted by amyms at 7:08 PM on April 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

My brother recently passed away similarly. I learned a lot from this page. Some of it may not apply if he's not in a hospice.
posted by hootch at 7:09 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't think you need to start off with serious and deep feelings - just hug him and tell him you love him, chat with him, spend time with him. Tell him a fun story or other memory that you have of him, or of you spending time with him. Be relaxed, easy, genuinely affectionate. Be real - above all, don't be fake. If it's natural for you to grab someone's hand or lay your hand on their shoulder while you talk to them, don't be afraid to do it (but be gentle in case he's in pain). If you've been close to him, tell him you're going to miss him but you're so glad you got to know him.
posted by onemorething at 7:09 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is he in good shape and accepting of it? Now may the time for taking some advice from (Queue cheesy pop-country music) Tim McGraw. That doesn't mean be wreckless or inconsiderate - but now's the time when he gets to do what he wants to do for the last few times. This is your chance to do some of those things with him.

If its bad - go for longest ice cream headaches.
If he's mobile - go for a skydive.

This is you chance to tell him what your relationship has meant to you, to validate his impact on you, and to let him decide what final memories he wants to take with him.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:10 PM on April 21, 2009

Bring a video camera, and interview hm. Ask him about the high points of his life, about his family and his childhood memories. His memories of significant points of history - "Where were you when you first heard that Kennedy was shot?" kind of stuff. Let him tell his own story that can be shared with his family; spend your time on getting to know him, and not worrying about the future.

Put it on a DVD, and at some point after - I can't really answer when this might be appropriate - but share it with family, and by this I don't mean having a family viewing... offer copies to people who can then watch it on their own time when they feel they are ready.
posted by SquidLips at 7:16 PM on April 21, 2009

My uncle has one week to live. I'm visiting him tomorrow. What am I supposed to say?

Tell him you love him.

What am I supposed to do?


Just focus being as human as you can.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:24 PM on April 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Had a similar situation, here's a few suggestions.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just being there is more important than what you say or do.
posted by malocchio at 7:35 PM on April 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

If I were to die I probably would read Marcus Aurelius "Meditations".
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:37 PM on April 21, 2009

Make preparations to deal with your grief. But when you visit him, don't make that grief the focus of your time together. He knows he's dying. Send him off with something better than the same thoughts that echo in his quiet mind.
posted by jefficator at 8:04 PM on April 21, 2009

Best answer: I visited my mother knowing it was the last time we'd see each other. What did we do? For most of the time, we did the same stuff we always did. We talked about our crazy family. We told funny stories. I told her about school. She told me about her garden. She complained about not being healthy. We made jokes about it. Raunchy, awful, deviant jokes.

And then it all sort of came to a head, and we sat for a long, long time, and she told me who she wanted me to be, where she wanted me to go, and she said she was sorry that she wouldn't be around for it. That was hard.

Being there is the important thing. Sit and talk, or don't. Whatever you and your uncle need to do. Maybe it'll be like any other family visit, as weird and awkward or joyous and uplifting as those can be. Or maybe it will be a profound experience. You won't know until you're there, and you might not know until long after you leave.

The hardest part, I think, is treating a person in this situation as a person, still alive, still full of life (unless he has a debilitating illness that will make communication difficult, of course, but even then, look at Stephen Hawking).

So I'd say to be you, and let him be him. And be glad for the opportunity.

Very sorry for your family's loss.
posted by socratic at 8:10 PM on April 21, 2009 [22 favorites]

It may seem odd but he's probably most concerned about his loved ones - you. Dying is a small sort of letting those around you down, where you aren't able to watch out for them anymore. Without details or knowing him, I'll venture that he's ready and accepting the end of his life coming up - it's leaving those around you behind that's the hard part. Tell him about your plans, your hopes, your dreams.
posted by kcm at 8:11 PM on April 21, 2009

You didn't mention if he is mobile or not, but, if he likes the outdoors take him for a walk. I went on a walk with my Aunt shortly before she died and that walk meant so much to both of us.

Try to relax as much as possible and let him take the lead.
posted by a22lamia at 8:13 PM on April 21, 2009

When my grandfather was dying I couldn't do much more than hold his hand and kiss him on the forehead....but he told me at one point that he was glad I was there.
posted by brujita at 10:40 PM on April 21, 2009

Bring a video camera, and interview him.

Unless he specifically requests this, for God's sake fuck no!

You know what's happening. He knows what's happening. Unless you have any deep issues that require the giving or accepting of forgiveness, just talk to him like you normally would.

You can say everything you need to with your last hug or kiss before you leave.
posted by Cyrano at 11:11 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't go into specifics, so I am
going to go out on a limb here.

Sometimes when people only have
a week to live, they are in palliative care.
Sometimes some parts of them have
shut down already. When they are that
close to death, some parts of them aren't
always responsive or very alert.

I would suggest that you touch him.
Hold his hand, rub his arms, maybe even
hang out beside him in bed.

Even if he's aphasic and has trouble
understanding speech, the sense of touch
is generally recognized as the last sense
to go. So when you see him, touch him.
It will comfort him. Esp. since when people
see sick people, they aren't always eager
to touch them. But it's the most direct
and sure way of telling someone you
love them, esp. if when you tell them
you love them, sometimes it's not understood
because of aphasia or other damage.

Good luck.
posted by Sully at 11:55 PM on April 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Seconding what Sully said about touch. Hold his hand. Be with him. The words will come.
posted by lumosh at 2:05 AM on April 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your warm words and advice. My visit with my uncle went well. He was having a good day, so we went outside and enjoyed the weather together. It was not the weird or uncomfortable thing I was scared it would be.
posted by jennyhead at 10:16 AM on April 26, 2009

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