Just Listening is a Gift to the Dying

Just Listening is a Gift to the Dying

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


“When it comes to dying, I’m an amateur. I haven’t done it—I think when I come to it, I will still be an amateur, somewhere between frightened and terrified.”  —Sam Keen, “Graceful Passages”

Bingo! Sam Keen speaks to a reality that bypasses some of the death-denying language of our culture and our church—the language of “Don’t be afraid, let your faith carry you through this passage in your life.”

“Don’t be afraid, we’ll be with you all the way.” Both statements can be comforting, and both of which, in my experience, speak to a truth.

But neither they, nor any other statement changes the reality that death, even for people of faith, arrives for most with fear and terror at some level of their being. It is only when the fear and terror is mitigated by allowing the person to process their feelings that one becomes free to allow her/his faith to inform the dying process.

Any hint of judgment in our comment—“You must use your faith” kind of statement—often adds a level of guilt to the one afraid. Now that person has to wrestle with “what is wrong with me, I know better than to be afraid.” 

More helpful is asking questions of the one dying and making statements that invite exploring the person’s deepest concerns. 

  • I wonder about what you’re feeling. Do you want to talk about that?
  • Is there anything I can do or say to make this time easier?
  • I am willing to listen. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have the time to listen. Maybe that will help.
There may well come a time when a person invites you to share your faith and what it says about their dying. In my work with the dying (nearly every day for the past 13 years, and often during the 40 years I pastored a congregation) I have been moved by the opening for faithful witness when I have been willing to wait for the invitation to do so. People are all too willing to engage that subject, but seem to do so on their on schedule, That most often happens when they feel safe speaking of anything, including their fears and terror, without being judged or having their feelings diminished.

So a word to those caring for or about someone of any age who is dying, offer the gift of willingly listening to their fears and worries, and when the time is right, share the good news that even with their fears, God is there for them to guide them on their way.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2015 Rev. James Stinson