The impending loss of your father can be a heartbreaking time. In addition to the emotions you are experiencing about his declining health and the prospect of a future without him, you may be struggling to find the right things to say to him, particularly if your relationship was strained.
The conversations you have with your passing father can be intensely personal, and you might wonder if you are saying the wrong things. Here is some guidance for these conversations.
Follow His Lead
If possible, let your dad lead the conversation about his approaching death. Some people would rather not talk about the end, while others feel relieved to talk honestly about what is coming. It is possible that your dad longs to have his impending mortality acknowledged but is worried about upsetting you by bringing it up himself.
If you are close to him, you may already have some idea about how directly he will want to talk about it. Listen for natural cues to bring it up in your conversations, such as when he mentions not being around for a future event or discusses his illness. Looking at photos together can spur some of these conversations if you think you need some help.
Once you find the right moment to bring it up, ask him how he is feeling and whether he has any specific concerns. Gently inquire about any specific needs or wants that you can help to arrange, and tell him you are there for him. That might seem like something that can go unsaid, but it is important to provide reassurance to your dad that you are there so he does not feel alone.
People who are passing away often gain comfort from knowing that their life mattered. Be sure to thank your dad for all the things he taught you in his lifetime and the fun times you shared, and ask him to share his favorite memories. Depending on your family dynamics, you might also want to try to find some opportunities for laughter, such as by recalling a humorous story or sharing a funny memory to help lift the mood. Find out what advice he would like to leave behind and what he would most like to be remembered for.
Talk About Any Unfinished Business
Many family relationships are complicated. If you feel any remorse about past issues or actions, now is the time to ask for forgiveness. Even if you do not expect acknowledgement or a positive response, it will make you feel better to know that you have done your part to try and make amends with him.
Likewise, if your father wronged you in some way, he might be looking for a chance to ask for your forgiveness. Even if he does not acknowledge how any of his past actions or inactions impacted you, you might offer this forgiveness to him in some way, even if he can no longer communicate. Forgiving him can free you from any pain and anger you have felt toward him.
If you have a strained relationship with your father, do not feel obligated to pretend everything is fine, but do consider trying to have some type of positive conversation with him. Regardless of how you feel about him right now, you may eventually feel that your dad did the best he could with the tools he was given, and you might feel comforted to look back and know that you showed him some grace in his final days. If you cannot put aside negative feelings, being there is more than enough.
Tell Him You Love Him
Even if you don’t normally tell your father you love him, now is the time to say it, no matter how awkward it feels. Even if he is no longer able to respond to you, he may still feel the impact of your words. As your father’s death approaches, you never know which conversation you have with him will be your last one, so make sure you take every chance you get to let him know how you feel about him.
Speak From Your Heart
It is hard to go wrong when you speak from your heart and let kindness and compassion guide you. You should continue to do this even after your father can no longer reply to you. According to studies, the senses of hearing and touch last the longest, so you should always say whatever you feel you need to say to your father. You can also hold his hand or touch his face. Allow him to feel your presence and listen to your voice.
Reach Out To Your Hospice Team
Your hospice team can provide valuable support during your father’s final days. Hospice counselors, volunteers and chaplains can give you advice on having difficult conversations with your father, and they can also direct you to other resources for support if you are having trouble processing your feelings. Harbor Light Hospice can guide your family through this challenging time, so reach out to learn more about how we can help.