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How to Talk with Sick, Dying and Grieving People

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How to Talk with Sick, Dying and Grieving People

When There Are No Magic Words to Say (Resources on Faith, Sickness, Grief and Doubt)


15 min read
8 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

A clergyman offers spiritual advice for supporting grieving, ill or dying people and their families.

Editorial Rating



  • Overview
  • Concrete Examples
  • Inspiring


Rev. Patrick Riecke outlines specific guidance for supporting the grieving, sick or dying – and their friends and family. A hospital chaplain, he writes from a Christian spiritual perspective, including using biblical quotes. His advice is broadly applicable, including for managers helping workers affected by illness and loss. He provides reference lists of the right and wrong things to say to people who are grieving, ill or dying, and to their families. Managers will find the book and its lists very useful. Few people can help during hard times, but being present the right way is “important work.”


Helping people who are ill or grieving can be difficult without guidance.

When someone is in the midst of a crisis, it can be hard to know what to do or say. When a doctor diagnosed the young son of author Rev. Patrick Riecke with meningitis, it was 24 hours before the minister – who works as a member of the clergy with patients and families dealing with illness and death – understood that the illness wasn’t fatal.

That night, while on duty as the hospital chaplain, he realized his training hadn’t prepared him for the “emotions, fears and spiritual questions” he experienced during that short time. Based on that episode, Riecke felt the need to offers guidelines for anyone who is helping others deal with grief, illness or loss.

Supporting someone through tragedy requires being honest, present and willing to listen.

If someone you care about or work with closely is in the hospital, visit him or her if COVID-19 restrictions allow it. Follow these steps:

  • Call the hospital before you go – Hospital complexes can be large...

About the Author

The Rev. Patrick Riecke, a minister for 20 years, is a director for Parkview Health where he heads the ethics committee. For a free wallet card listing what to say and not say during a hospital visit, see

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