Essential Questions to Ask Someone You Love Before They Die

By Adrian Allotey posted 04-20-2021 13:43


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?




04-24-2021 12:10

@Debbie Bershad,  WOW, Your sharing is amazing!!! Looking at your interactions with your self is so much more difficult than looking at ​your interactions with other people.  I will definitely keep your thoughts in mind moving forward, not just personally but professionally as well.  Thanks for your sharing.

04-22-2021 15:50

Yes, I agree these are great questions. And at the end of the day I hope to leave all relationships with a positive focus whenever possible.

I also believe it is important for individuals at EOL to be open to how  negative experiences and emotions can also be of benefit in navigating and facing the regrets that most of us encounter in the process of living life.

I am speaking specifically to your great  reference to initiating the following phrases with individuals  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. While these are important discussion topics, neither should re reserve them solely for EOL discussions, nor should we avoid expanding on these  questions, "In what way might it be helpful for me to forgive myself?", or "how might forgiveness relate to your personally?"  or "tell me about the aspect of forgiving yourself.  Have you considered whether forgiving yourself might be helpful or something to consider? " or "How might I better love myself at this point in my life?"
I believe these are important questions to help support self-discovery and guide self-healing which is also vital at EOL.  This approach is meant, to help individuals navigate regrets from earlier life circumstances.

Deb Bershad

04-21-2021 06:54

These are great questions -- thank you.

04-21-2021 01:25

This is a great list of questions.