What can I say to that person who is on hospice care and is facing imminent death? The afflicted person may be in a coma. What can or should you say, if anything?
You do not need to say much, but make it worthwhile. Even the comatose person most often can hear to the very end. Sometimes, no longer able to speak, you can ask the person to squeeze your hand or blink his/her eyes to let you know hearing is taking place. I have “heard” confession of sin and profession of faith in Jesus as Savior through such alternate means of communicating as these.
But if there is no response, we do well to assume that the comatose person can hear and we should speak something short and meaningful. If they were not hard of hearing before, there is no need to shout now, but speak clearly and distinctly.
Recently I prepared some short daily texts for a brother-in-law by the name of Ken with whom I had the opportunity to speak in person about matters of salvation before he entered his final days in hospice care. He was a lapsed baptized Roman Catholic. In these last days of his life, we were separated by hundreds of miles and I heard he could no longer use his phone even for texting. So I sent these short devotionals to another brother-in-law by the name of Ray—a Lutheran brother in Christ (a WELS layman). Ray went to Ken’s bedside and read them to him every few days.
I share them with you, if you should be wondering what to say to someone who is facing death. Keep in mind, a person in such a state is comforted by your presence even in silence. So if you have the time, besides reading one of these short devotionals, pull up a chair close to the bed, perhaps even hold the dying person’s hand.
The only words that are needed are the words of God’s love for us in Jesus our Savior, i.e., the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. I encourage you to speak them to the dying person you know. They are written for one who is baptized. If the person you are visiting is not baptized, you may have to adjust the wording a bit. If alternate forms of communication can take place, ask if your pastor could come for a visit and possibly baptize.
[Name], St. John writes: “The blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9). [Name], may this simple truth from God’s Word give you comfort and peace in Jesus. Amen.
[Name], you might remember the 23rd Psalm. Here are a few verses for your comfort today: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: … Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” [Name], Jesus is your Good Shepherd through faith in Him as your Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
[Name], yesterday we heard about the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23. In John 10, Jesus declares, “I am the Good Shepherd” and then promises: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” You are safe in Jesus’ hand now and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
[Name], St. Paul writes: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it [faith in Jesus as your Savior] is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). You believe in Jesus, not by your doing but the work of the Holy Spirit alone. We boast only in the work of salvation accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for us. All has been done for you. Rest in peace in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Name], Jesus declared, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Therefore, St. Paul also writes: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). [Name], you are safe in Jesus, your Savior. Amen.
[Name], God’s prophet Micah observed this of Him: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression? He has compassion on us; He treads our iniquities underfoot. [Name], He casts all your sins into the depths of the sea” (7:18-19). Salvation is yours for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
[Name], the Apostle John was given a glimpse into heaven by Jesus with all His believers present. Here is its description: “[T]he dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). [Name], here we are but strangers. Heaven is our everlasting and perfect home for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
[Name], Paul observed that through faith in Jesus as Savior “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:8-9). [Name], you can also say with Paul: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain… which shall I choose … My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23). In Jesus’ name, Amen.
[Name], Jesus promises, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). [Name], this passing has already happened for you through faith in Jesus. You possess eternal life for Jesus’ sake right now. Amen.
[Name], you know that Jesus, your Redeemer, lives, just as Job professed in this midst of his great suffering: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself” (19:25-27). [Name], the last day is fast approaching when Jesus will return and redeem your body from your grave, restoring it to perfection so that you will live the full life Jesus secured for all sinners. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
There are two handfuls’ worth of very brief daily devotions here. Should you have more opportunity with the dying one, go back to the beginning or reuse your favorites. It is also good at some point in your visit to pray the Lord’s Prayer, read the Apostles’ Creed, and even close with the benediction at the end of our divine services. I have seen it when there is no evidence of the person being able to hear that they will move their lips in an attempt to speak those familiar words with you. Bring a hymnary with you so that you can read them, lest something happens, e.g., a loud noise coming from the other patient in the room or in the hallway, to distract you.
Rev. Glenn Obenberger,