As an end-of-life doula, nothing is more encouraging and life-affirming to me than providing a safe place for people with a terminal or advanced-stage illness and their family, loved ones, and caregivers to openly share their experiences, reality, and perceptions of life that brought them to this moment both individually and collectively. I pride myself on meeting my clients on their terms–seeing them as whole and building relationships with those they are surrounded by–with no judgement nor expectation. Holding this space decreases the stress and fears that they face knowing that their last breath is imminent.
I empower my clients with the acknowledgement that they are more than the current situation and the illness. They are a culmination of their life decisions, actions, roles, and contributions. We thoroughly examine and document their impact and contributions to their families, communities, and the world. We do this through a lengthy life review that comes in an oral, written, or taped format. Doing this work allows the dying person to be seen for who they are and not be overshadowed by the illness.
I have a list of questions that bring a lot of joy, peace, and past knowledge to the forefront of all involved. The questions are simple but always lead to much deeper and vibrant conversations. It can lead to issues or situations that need clarity, healing, forgiveness, or resolution before the last breath is taken. Engaging in such a practice makes the load lighter for all involved and creates a space for everyone’s feelings, experiences, and perceptions to be heard and validated.
The sharing and reflecting on past information can be done solo or as a group. It aids in the process of saying goodbye. Prior to sharing a few of my simple questions, I often share the following phrases with my clients as death is approaching; “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” as shared in the book The Four Things That Matter Most by Dr. Ira Byock.
So, what questions should you ask someone who is getting older or nearing the end of their life? Here are some recommendations, based on my experience, that bring families closer together through an end-of-life experience. As challenging as it is to say goodbye to a terminally ill loved one, it is a valuable time to sit with them and learn more about their life story and family history.
Eight Powerful Questions to Ask Someone You Love Before They Die
- What was life like for you growing up?
- How did you meet your spouse or partner?
- Is there a memory that is giving you strength at this time?
- What advice have you received that has made the greatest impact on your life, and who gave you the advice?
- Is there something you always wanted to ask but didn’t? And to whom?
- What memories make you most proud? Most thankful?
- Which stage of life brought you the most happiness?
- When people think about you, what would you like them to remember most?