When someone we love is dying, we often stumble over what to say. We want to provide comfort and peace but have no idea how to do it. Good willed people tell us, “Make sure you say good-bye.” But how do we do that? We feel a need to say so much but don’t know how to begin. There are four special phrases one can share, starting with saying “I’m sorry” following with “I love you”, then “Thank you”, and concluding with “Goodbye.” In sharing these, we can provide much peace and comfort. And we can feel closure within ourselves.

Encourage each person in the family to spend some time alone with your loved one. Even if your loved one is not responding, or is unable to communicate, they can probably hear you talk because hearing is the last sense to leave. Pull up a chair close to them, relax, hold their hand, take a deep breath and start talking; start sharing these phrases. Start sharing your heart.

 First, in many relationships there may be unsettled things that need to be shared. Think over the past. There may be a need for some “I’m sorry’s” to be said and for forgiveness and reconciliation to take place. When this is shared, there are no regrets later. Once the “I’m sorry’s” are shared, it is much easier to come forth with some honest “I love you’s.” Remind them why you love them. Share what your relationship meant to you.

 The third phrase is saying “thank you.” Go to your loved one and tell them thank you for being who they were in your life. Think back over the years, write down precious memories and share them together. Precious moments of reminiscing and perhaps even recording memories of the past can be a cherished time together. Smile, laugh, cry and remember together.

 When we have said “I’m sorry”, “I love you”, and “Thank you”, then we are able to say “Goodbye.” Part of saying goodbye is letting the other person know that we will be all right once they are gone. If we have been honest in sharing the other three phrases, then the final farewell is more bearable. As Christians, we do not need to grieve as those who have no hope. Talk together about the hope we have in Jesus. Even though there is pain in separation, we can cling to the hope and promise that someday we will be together again.

 Once these four phrases have been shared, we can feel peace and closure. These can be used by all of us, regardless of who we are or what the status of our health might be. Why wait for a time of dying to share them? We can use them throughout life in all relationships, not only as a time of saying “Goodbye” but as a time to deepen relationships.

For future reading: What to do when you don’t know what to say. by Froehlich & Wells

Gift of Significance. by Doug Manning