My grandfather is going to pass away soon. What do I say to family members?
December 7, 2009 10:12 AM   Subscribe

My grandfather is going to pass away soon. What do I say to family members?

My grandfather is fighting to stay alive at this point, but the outlook looks grim. Some background: I did not have a very close relationship with him, but I have some great memories that I shared with him. He does not recognize me now, as he suffers from dementia.

The only time I have had a relative pass away I was much, much younger. Besides saying "I'm sorry", I am unsure of what I am supposed to say or do when this inevitably occurs.

The question that is on the forefront of my mind is what is the proper or suggested customs in regards to what I say and do for the following relatives?

1) my father (this is his father who's passing)

2) my grandmother

3) uncles/aunts/cousins

Thanks for reading.
posted by helios410 to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Nobody knows what to do in many of these situations. I think the best thing is to just pay attention to who the recipient of your condolences is and what/how they're feeling at that moment.

Things can veer back and forth very quickly; I imagine some people in your family will be quite relieved, and others will be suddenly reliving all of the things they didn't say in the last 20 years. And then they'll switch roles and you'll think, "Oh, gee, what now?"

Just be yourself. Think about the interesting times you had with him, or the stories you've heard, even if you think they must be the most insignificant memories. When a friend of mine died in a terrible accident, her family was touched by my story of her simply sitting down to dinner with me in the cafeteria.

Perhaps the toughest thing, especially in a situation like this, is just having an empty space where you once had a presence -- knowing you could talk to him, even if you weren't sure that he understood, or simply planning your life around his needs and the needs of those caring for him. Your grandma will certainly feel that quite keenly.

So just be there for everybody, and let them feel what they want to feel, and when they need something (a kleenex, a hug, a meal, a ride), just say, "I'm here for you, and please tell me how I can help."
posted by Madamina at 10:24 AM on December 7, 2009

I am so sorry. At this point while you all wait, it is nice to ask your family members how they are doing. This also opens up conversation about how all of you are feeling.

When he dies, that will be a great time to talk about all your good memories of him. People also appreciate it if you can identify and talk about the ways that they were good family members, e.g. ways in which your dad was a good son.

Best wishes at this hard time.
posted by bearwife at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2009

Just give everybody a big hug, and "Would like you like me to sit with you/stay around?" just in case they need you.

A "How are you doing?" they next day allows them to open up talking about it if they want to.
posted by Sova at 10:27 AM on December 7, 2009

There's no script, no expected thing or things that you have to say, or should say - it all depends on who you're talking to and how they're feeling at the time. Especially in the case of your father - losing a parent is an emotionally complex thing to go through, to say the least, and depending on the closeness of your relationship with your father, he may not WANT you to say anything. He may just want to know you're there. Be aware of how people are feeling and what they're going through, and go from there.

I have found in my life that people going through grief appreciate small gestures - if you can cook, bring over a meal, for instance. If you can't cook, maybe offer to do some stuff around the house, or to babysit if your various relatives have small kids, or things like that.
posted by pdb at 10:27 AM on December 7, 2009

Sometimes it is less about words and more about being there. Holding your father's arm, hugging your grandmother tightly and holding her hand, will do far more than words can.

You could recount funny stories of grandpa and his mannerisms with cousins, aunts, etc. Your grandmother would probably like to hear how much he meant to you, and lessons he taught you. For your dad, an "I'm so sorry; I miss him, too" and a shoulder squeeze might work well, or a big hug if you are emotionally close.

When my step grandmother died, we gave lots of hugs to each other and assured ourselves she was no longer suffering. She also had dementia, and spent her last year in a nursing home. My step dad told me he took comfort from the family being there together, more so than the "I'm sorry for your loss" speeches.

My condolences to your family.
posted by caveat at 10:29 AM on December 7, 2009

I love you.
I miss him, too.
Have you eaten? Have some of this sandwich.
I'll take care of those dishes.
Remember that time he [insert anecdote here]...
Do you need help with...?
I love you.

Because he is your family and you will have suffered that loss as well, it's not really expected that you would say the standard soothing stuff "I'm sorry for your loss" etc. You're all in it together and all that's required of you is to lean on people when you need to and to be there for others to lean on when you can.
posted by stefanie at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2009

You can say, "I'm sorry, I don't know what to say." I think that many people in this situation don't know what to say and understand that you're struggling to say the right thing. Being there is sometimes more important than the actual words you say.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:08 AM on December 7, 2009

You can say what you told us: "I have been thinking a lot about him lately. I have some good memories." And of course, "This is hard for everyone. How're you doing?"

Depends on how much your family talks, naturally: we're some tight-lipped, emotion-stuffing Irish & Germans, so there's scowls and nods, and then some really bad jokes, and finally the great stories will come pouring out, no matter who it is who passed. :7)

Take care of yourself and just Be There for your relatives.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:25 AM on December 7, 2009

Thanks for your suggestions and sympathies everyone. They are all much appreciated.
posted by helios410 at 8:29 PM on December 11, 2009

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