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What to say to a possibly dying person?

Hello people.

I have an extended family member who’s on the 4th stage of liver cancer and he may not have much time to live. He’s undergoing treatments but nobody knows if he’ll recover properly. The purpose of this post is to seek ways to (1) provide comfort for a person undergoing treatment; and if it comes to that stage, (2) provide comfort for a dying person.

It’s just today that he discovered his underlying health conditions. He will be taking medicine first as part of the treatment before other procedures such as tumour removal. I am unsure of the exact details and am unsure of the sufferings that he will be going through.

He’s familiar with Daoist and Mahayana Buddhist teachings but not in-depth. He’s a genuinely nice and happy go lucky person but this situation must be tough for him. I appreciate all your responses which would aid his mental tranquillity. Thank you!

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“Our Real Home,” Ajahn Chah:

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/chah/bl111.html

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Some food for thought…

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I can suggest you one thing sir, ask him to chant om mani padme hum while sitting, sleeping or however he can. That will create some merit for him. More the numbers he chants more the benefit would be, and would help him attain good rebirth, this I was told by a certain monk having a pure conduct of body, speech and mind. So really it should work as no-one can save us except dhamma and all of it is there in that six syllables.

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I respond with the sentence that popped into my mind when I was reading the thread title.

What is it that is aware of the possibility of you dying now?

And then I went silent and clear.

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Thank you. It is an insightful read!

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Thanks for the quote! It is surprisingly calming!

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Thank you for the resources!

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Through cancer, turning towards experience with mindfulness was helpful with the ongoing suffering of discomfort, nausea, pain. I’d had some practice before everything hit the fan, but access to awareness was available even as I neared death from acute kidney failure. I did not die. The recounting of this may or may not be helpful:
Gregory Kramer Talk 4 17 16 - YouTube

I also found great solace, as guided by the suttas, in reviewing the factors of awakening. Samyutta Nikaya, Bojjhana Samyutta. This is a traditional healing teaching, having worked its power with the Buddha and also I believe Sariputta. I can say for certain it worked for me. Just having it read to me (any of these discourses that walked through these factors) lead my mind to follow, and thus develop, the factors right there. And misery left me and energy returned. This was mid-chemotherapy, no small stuff. I wish you and your friend well.

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Asking how he is feeling about the treatment and remembering the details might be a good way to show care and concern, being sick can be lonely.

You could always ask him directly how he is feeling about the diagnosis. “E.g. I heard you mightn’t get better, how are you feeling about the diagnosis?” Just an open invitation to let you know what he is feeling. If he wants to share any particular concerns you can be there to listen and reassure.

→ I’m not an expert, I’ve just seen other people who do this very well.

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Find a Way to show healthy Metta to this person. Cultivating an attitude of non-attachment, cultivate an unconditional Karuna in your interactions, and don’t hold back how much you care for this person. Practicing Buddhism, while Loving others in a healthy Way is the fruit of the Practice you are cultivating. Making this person happy in such a Way, they will let go of fear and dwell in the fruit of your Dharma Practice.

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I would say that he can reverse the whole disease. It’s the power of the mind. He should not give up. :pray:t4: coming from a stroke patient that learned to walk in 1 month. (Doing better every year)

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Dear Tingyang,

my best friend (husband) of 33 years suddenly dies of cancer. He got the diagnose 2 months ago that he has probably 4 months left.
We are walking through a storm, as you can imagine.

I gave him image.

He is not a Buddhist and has his own beliefs. He rejected the “Tibetan Book of Death” and also didn’t want to listen to Dhamma talks but he loves this book. It gave him the peace to sit down and to start meditating with me.

We also started to talk open and honest about the situation and our feelings. It took a bit to get there but once he was ready it was/is the best approach.

I also had to accept that we all have different approaches, beliefs and need different times to accept reality (parents, friends, work mates etc).

I hope this helps a bit.

With metta :pray:
Alex

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Death is not the end, but a new beginning. It is a refreshing of consciousness. Those without attachments are not bewildered by a change of body at death, and gain a new life in the process. Death can be viewed in a positive light this way, without having the thought that one is losing something. That takes Advanced Meditative Consciousness.

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@Alex70, so sorry for your loss.
with much metta

@tingyang3899
It’s beautiul that you want to offer your friend the most appropriate kind of support duing this difficult time. A very close friend of mine recently passed from cancer. I think what’s most helpful is to listen with a recepetive and compassionate heart, really be present to the other person and take your cues from them as to how much they want to talk about it, what kind of support is helpful, etc. Sensitivity, an open receptive presence, willingness to truly listen and a compassionate heart go a very longs way. It’s rare to have a friend who can really be present in the face of a very difficult situation.

Many people facing the death of friends and dear ones understandably get triggered by their own feelings–sadness, fear, loss, etc. But if not recognized and dealth with, it can prevent them from really being present for the other person. Often it takes the form of trying to ‘fix’, offering unwanted or unasked for advice or even telling the person they can just get well through the power of their mind. The latter can even trigger guilt in the person facing death, that they somehow should be able to get well if only they did this or that or got their mind straightened out and if they don’t get physically better that somehow they did something wrong.

@tingyang3899, I’m certainly not at all suggesting you’re doing this, I’m just making a general comment about things that can get in the way especially when one is not aware of their own feelings getting triggered.

Of course our minds play a part in our well-being but we are ultimately not in control of the nature of this body. Although the condition of our body often affects our mind, true well-being (and ultimately liberation) really has nothing to do with the physical health of the body.

@Gregory, thank you for your beautiful post. I too have found the discourses on the Bojjhana to be profoundly healing.

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A wonderful book on the topic of disease and death by Ven Anālayo:
Mindfully Facing Disease and Death: Compassionate Advice from Early Buddhist Texts

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That is indeed a wonderful book. To add to your suggestion, there is also Life is a Near Death Experience: Skills for Illness, Aging, Dying, and Loss by Ajahn Sona. The reason I bring this up is that Analayo’s book demands quite a bit of focus and energy to digest. Which may be difficult for a person going through a severe health crisis. Ajahn Sona attempts to address this in his book by making it short and simple whilst still drawing from the advice given in the suttas. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

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Your effort to find a way to provide comfort to your extended family member is a very compassionate act! We hope you will succeed to find some suitable answers & that the person would either find a miraculous way to beat the sickness or have a peaceful death & a subsequent rebirth in a favorable place.
We feel that the best way would be to teach him basic meditation & the drawbacks of being attached to the body & mind. If that is too difficult then, the next option would be to help him recollect his generous deeds, (however small or big they may be) & to recall the effort he has made to learn the Dhamma.
The following two Dhamma Pieces on Death & Rebirth that were recently published in Enlightened Times, the Dhamma Journal of Buddhist Society of Western Australia, (BSWA), could be of some use.
You may want to read the two Dhamma Pieces, linked below & see whether you could find some suitable advice that you could gleaned from them to provide to your family member. Here they are:

  1. Death, Dying & Living; Living the Right Way – Here is the Link
    https://bswa.org/bswp/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/2021-Issue-01-Enlightened-Times.pdf

  2. Rebirth by Intention – Here is the link
    https://bswa.org/bswp/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ET-Issue-3-2019.pdf

Ven Ajahn Brahm has a nice way of saying that you cannot undo the past. HE says the past is “Iniffable”, meaning that thinking of alternate options for past actions is not helpful & not meaningful. So, some nice way to tell him to let go of the past could be of some use.

We wish your family member happiness & peace!
May you be happy & peaceful!
May all beings everywhere be happy & peaceful!
With Metta,
Upasako

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