7 Ways You Can Comfort the Terminally Ill
How can you minister to someone who is terminally ill? You can’t promise that they’re going to get well, but you can offer them comfort —
1. Confront your own fears.
Before you can help anybody else, you’ve got to deal with your own fears. Terminal illness and death can bring up the hidden fears in us. That’s why so many people avoid hospitals and funerals. At some level, most of us are afraid to confront death. And so we want to hide from it.
Instead of avoiding people who are sick or dying, you need to acknowledge your fears and ask God for the courage and strength to go to the people who need you most. Don’t worry; you’re not going to mess anything up. You’re not going to make things worse. But before you go to minister, you need to deal with the very natural fear you have. Admit you have the fear.
2. Give them the present of your presence.
The greatest gift that you can give to the terminally ill is your presence. You just need to show up; that will mean more than any words you say. People want someone to be near them as they deal with the dying process.
People do not want to face serious illness or death alone. And they shouldn’t have to. You don’t need to say anything profound. You may not even talk to them. But you need to give them your presence.
3. Minister with practical assistance.
The important question to ask is, “How can I help?” You do whatever they need done. For example, when somebody’s terminally ill or dying, they’re often uncomfortable and in pain. What do you do when somebody’s in that situation? Whatever you can do. You want the lights on? You want the lights off? Can I get you some ice chips? Can I rub your back? You do anything. The little things you do will show love. You offer practical assistance to relieve pain and discomfort.
4. Fortify them with emotional support.
When someone is terminally ill or dying, they’re carrying a heavy burden. Don’t let them carry it alone. Provide emotional support. How do you carry somebody else’s emotional burden? Pray for them aloud.
How do you pray for them? Whatever they say, mirror it back to them in a prayer. When the person who is dying says, “This really frustrates me...” You pray, “Lord, Susie’s really frustrated by this…” When the person says, “I’m really angry and irritated,” you pray, “God, Bob is really having a tough time right now. He’s upset and angry. He’s frustrated.” When you do that, you’re lifting their burdens. That’s what intercession is all about.
5. Open them up with questions.
When people are terminally ill, they often carry an enormous emotional load. They may be carrying worry, fear, doubt, shame, guilt, regret, joy, sorrow, and anxiety. Help them get that out. How? Ask open-ended questions they can’t answer with just “yes” or “no.”
Your open-ended questions will often start with their questions. Let me give you three of them that are almost always asked in some manner by a person who is terminally ill: Why me? Why now? Why this? Nobody knows the answers to those three questions. They are unanswerable on this side of eternity. The Bible tells us that in eternity we will see how it all fits together. But we don’t right now.
You don’t want to answer their questions. But you can help them talk about it their concerns. For example, if someone asks, “Am I going to die?” You don’t have to answer that question; you don’t know for sure. Instead, rephrase the question and ask something like this: What does dying mean to you? Then wait. That will help them talk about some things that they need to talk about.
By the way, if they don’t want to talk about death, that’s O.K. Some people don’t want to talk about it. It’s not good for them to bottle it up, but don’t force them to talk.
6. Remember the family has needs too.
You can be helpful to the whole family – not just to the person who is terminally ill. For example, you can ask questions that the family might feel uncomfortable asking. It’s perfectly O.K. to ask a dying person if they’ve made any preparations for their death. Somebody’s got to find that out, and you’re helping the family by asking. Friends take care of friends, and they take care of friends’ family as well.
7. Turn them to Jesus.
More than anything else, you want the dying person to accept God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. You want them to be at peace with God.
Tell the dying person that Jesus loves them, that he died for them, that they can spend eternity with him, and that you’d be glad to pray with them about this.
If you’d like to learn more about ministering to those in crisis, you can listen online to the series, “When You’re Hoping for a Miracle” on RickWarren.org.