I wish I could comfort you. I see you’re coming to my blog because you are searching for phrases like, “When your sister is dying,” and “Help with words for my dying sister.” You’re here because you saw that I wrote about my sister when she died. You’re here because you hope I can teach you what to say when your sister is dying.
And my answer is that I don’t know what you should say to your sister because that’s a personal thing. What I can do is tell you to be there for her. Let her be your guide. Talk about things you’ve always enjoyed together. Reminisce. Laugh together. Cry together.
But don’t make her feel guilty or remind her of the things she will miss. Talk to her about the present and the past. Not about a future that she won’t be in unless she prompts it. And if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all. Just be there.
I say to people who care for people who are dying if you really love that person and want to help them, be with them when their end comes close. Sit with them – you don’t even have to talk. You don’t have to do anything but really be there with them.
When my MIL took herself off of dialysis, she had 3 to 4 days to live. She surrounded herself with her entire family. Not just children and grandchildren, but sisters, nieces, nephews, etc. She surrounded herself with love and laughter over a collective shared history. I can’t tell you how to be with your sister because each experience is different depending on your relationship and your shared past. But I can tell you about my sister and me and maybe that will help you.
My sister’s name was Joanne, but we all called her Joni, sometimes Sis but mostly Joni. She was 15 when I was born, more second mother than a sister. She would take me everywhere, including on her dates, because she couldn’t bear to see me pouting in the door when she left. (Yes. I. Was. Spoiled.)
We connected on a lot of things, but the most constant thing in our lives was our love of books. We’d share them, we discuss them, we fight over who was reading a book first. She really loved books. You could tell by how she kept them. No dogeared pages, no broken spines–even paperbacks didn’t have broken spines. I don’t know how she accomplished that while reading the whole book.
But it was after reading a book that was most important for us. We discussed them, dissected them, talked about characters, and plotting, what worked, and what didn’t work, and we read beloved sentences to each other. We talked to each other two or three times a week on the phone, even after we just saw each other. Mostly I did this from the car, on my rides from work, and then I would sit in the driveway while we finished our conversations.
We sometimes did the same thing with TV shows too. Magnum PI and Twin Peaks, and Lonesome Dove all involved long discussions. Talking to her was something I loved to do. It’s this that I miss the most. Especially now that my commute is so long.
I’m pretty sure that she read me my first book, and I know for a fact that I read her last book to her. That is what I did when my sister was dying. I read from one of our beloved mystery series, the Death on Demand series by Carolyn Hart. While others might have read from the Bible or other spiritual texts, I read from something that connected us throughout our lives.
That is how I talked to my sister because she was in an induced coma due to the ventilator that was breathing for her. She couldn’t talk to me so I connected with her in a way that was uniquely personal to us.
Every night for almost a month, I would drive to the hospital after work and read to her. If her husband or other family members were already there, we would speak for a few minutes, and then they’d leave. Reading was such a big part of her life that her family got comfort in knowing I was doing this with her.
I finished the book on the night they decided to remove the breathing tube.
How It Helps
Being there for your sister and also for her family can help in so many ways. For my situation, first, the reading in itself was such a personal connection. But I also journaled and blogged, all of which helped me to process. And the nurses all assured me that she could hear what I was saying, so I like to think that reading to Joni helped to ease her mind.
During these difficult pandemic days, many people are not allowed to be with family or friends while they are dying. But you can call and talk to your loved one. In most cases, when they are nearing death, they are not able to respond, perhaps because they are on a ventilator or because they are in a coma. But you can still talk, tell them how much you love them. This article from Full Circle gives additional suggestions on what you can do to say good-by during Covid.
Your being able to be there for your sister will not only help you and ensure you don’t live with regret. It can help your sister feel comforted and loved. And it can also help the rest of her family. This was true in my case. Joni loved reading so much that knowing I was reading to her helped her family.
Think about it. How long has your sister’s spouse and/or children been sitting by her bedside? You might be the break they need to go home, shower, rest, or even take care of the bills or whatever else might be going on in their lives.
If you’re still not sure what to do or say when a close loved one is dying, then please review these Resources from The Center for Hospice Care. And to help you cope with your grief, I recommend this Grief Journal from A Healing Spirit. On Death and Dying and On Grief and Grieving, both by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are also good resources.
**The picture used with this post is a view from one of Joni’s favorite places. Sitting on the porch at our SIL’s camp on Great Pond. Some of her ashes are buried to the left of the porch, so she will always be near the water she loved so much.**