How to Pray for a Loved One Who is Dying

In my mother’s final days, I sat at her bedside and read aloud through the Psalms of Ascent. Originally written for ancient pilgrims travelling to the temple, Psalms 120-134 may also be read as psalms addressing our journey through life. They speak of family and community, work and rest, suffering and rejoicing, sin and God’s mercy, lament and worship, waiting, peace, and so much more.

The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. – Psalm 121:8
 
From the depths of despair, O Lord,
I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
Pay attention to my prayer. – Psalm 130:1-2
 
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the Lord. – Psalm 134:2-3

I sat and read through all fifteen Psalms as prayers for my mother, for myself, and for all of us walking through that valley of the shadow of death. I prayed the Psalms would speak comfort to her even as she continued to sleep peacefully and did not respond. At least the sound of my voice in her otherwise quiet room did me some good, with the words of the psalms bearing witness to God’s presence and goodness.

As a pastor, when I pray for and with those nearing death, I often turn to these psalms and to other portions of Scripture. Today I’m sharing some of my favourites, followed by a few selected resources–in most cases, these prayers are simply excerpts, so be sure to click through to the link provided. May these prayers offer comfort and hope as you journey with your loved one.

Praying Scripture

In addition to the Psalms of Ascent mentioned above (Psalms 120-134), I often turn to Psalm 23, Psalm 139:1-8, the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), and other texts.

The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26
 
Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:1, 8
 
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30
 
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

In Beauty May I Walk

A Navajo prayer, written anonymously. I shared this recently at the memorial service for the mother of friend.

In beauty may I walk;
All day long may I walk;
Through the returning seasons may I walk. . . .

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively;
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again…
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

An Irish Blessing

I’ve heard this blessing to close a time of worship, or to celebrate a wedding or other occasion, but I think of it also as a blessing for a loved one who may be near death.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

A Prayer of Abandonment

by Brother Charles de Foucauld, a French Catholic priest.

Father,
I abandon myself into Your hands,
Do with me what you will
Whatever you may do,
I thank you.
I am ready for all,
I accept all.

The Grieving

From a prayer anthology compiled by the Art of Dying Well. Elisabeth Leseur offered this prayer on behalf of her sister who had tuberculosis.

O Lord, she whom I love is ill.
Thou alone canst save her.
May that be Thy will!
Have pity on us!

3 Prayers for Cancer Patients

by Jack Wellman, a pastor who offers a prayer for healing, for comfort, and this prayer for one who is dying:

Dear God, my Father, I have a friend/family member who appears to be fighting a losing battle with cancer. The end appears close. It gets harder and harder to prepare my mind for their passing . . . but for them, God help them to process this and to grow to accept it somehow. They might be losing this battle but cancer will not win in the war.

A Prayer for the Dying

From the Cancer Survivors’ Network of the American Cancer Society:

Father God,
Give me the strength to help my husband face death with serenity and grace.
Give us the peace we need to make the most of our time together.
And give us Your love in abundance.
Remind him I am with him to the end.
Amen.

Prayers for the Dying: A Prayer for Hospice Patients

by Barry Pennington, a hospice chaplain, who also offers some helpful thoughts on how to pray for people in hospice care.

God, thank you for being with us right now. We confess that we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. We don’t understand why illness comes into our lives, but we do know that you walk every path of life with us.

A Litany for Loved Ones Nearing Death

by Britney Winn Lee, who published her reflection and prayer for her grandfather on her own website. The title link above is to an expanded version for Off the Page where you can also download a poster of the prayer.

For the dinners, the jokes, and the holidays we have shared, we give you thanks.

For how they are forever sewn into the fabric of who we are, we offer our gratitude.

For the lessons taught, tales told, legacies built of the good and the complicated, we ask for your guidance to know how to hold it all. . . .

As they straddle this world and the next in that strange existence of between, help us to warmly accept the mystery of how they can be both here and there. Not deteriorating, but instead growing into death–the next chapter.

Today, we sit in the dirt that they toiled, or bake the dish that they shared, or speak the stories that they loved.

And we decide again to light our candles though wicks run out and flames are fleeting. . . .

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What have you found helpful in praying for a loved one who is dying? What have you found unhelpful?

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8 thoughts on “How to Pray for a Loved One Who is Dying

  1. I have always found the greatest comfort from the psalms. There was a time in my life when I got up early in the morning to reflect on the psalms because that was the only time I had. That was the time of great spiritual growth for me.

    1. I have experienced great comfort in the Psalms as well. For some time I’ve been reading them through in different translations and tweeting out a verse of the day, which has also been a good discipline for me.

  2. What a wonderful resource!! At times when grieving/ overwhelmed by ill/ness or injury, the mind is often scattered. Thank you so much for sharing these suggested texts and prayers!

    1. You’re so welcome, Linda. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or unsure how to pray for any reason, I’m helped by the words of Scripture and the prayers of others, so wanted to take this opportunity to share.

  3. This is a post I can return to again and again. You have picked out psalms I can use devotionally for myself ~ and share with others.

    At this time last year, our 98-year-old aunt in hospice care, lay dying. We sang to her. . . . songs she knew from the Mennonite hymnal.I know she heard. Her body reflected lessening tension.

    Thank you, April!

    1. You’re welcome, Marian. What a precious memory singing songs for your aunt in hospice care. It reminds me of the reference in Colossians 1 about singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” As you’ve experienced, these psalms and hymns can touch us in the deep places of our lives.

  4. Thanks for all you offer to others. I work in hospice—a good fit after losing some close family members. Your writing on so many topics reveals and points beyond in a beautiful way.

    1. I’m grateful for your response, Andrea, and pray that this post and others might be helpful to you in your hospice work. May you be strengthened and encouraged for your good service.

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