“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched
 – they must be felt with the heart.”

– Helen Keller

Human Language 101:  More than Words.

Helen Keller knew very few words when she lost her sight and hearing at only nineteen months old.  How she learned about words and even come to understand what they meant was the result of the loving kindness with which her teacher Anne Sullivan taught Helen how to gradually connect to the outside world. Anne was her mentor, her friend, and her guiding light, and through determined persistence, she taught Helen to communicate and express herself.  She helped Helen understand language through her own sense of language, and Anne’s words of encouragement connected to Helen’s heart.

After Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing, she began acting out with wild and out of control behavior.  Surely it was very frustrating to have no way of communicating what she felt.  How could she relate to anything outside of her?  When we, as humans, don’t have a way of expressing what we feel, we can often feel isolated, lost and alone.  It was the touching hand of Anne Sullivan who demonstrated and “showed” Helen the “light” through learning how to express words, concepts, and language… a way to be heard and seen, even if Helen couldn’t see with her physical eyes nor hear with her physical ears.

In this article, we will decipher the meanings that lie behind the words we speak, how we identify the unspoken language and that which we express, as well as how to discern using words of encouragement that heal rather than hurt, albeit inadvertently.

Words of Encouragement Through Body Language

Words of Encouragement through Body Language

Human language doesn’t always need words.  You know when someone is angry and shut down just by looking at their body language. Crossed arms and smiles give away the many messages that are spoken without words.

When you are visiting someone who is dying, many times not even a word is needed, and that person feels your presence.  You also share silent words through your eyes and gestures of affection and kindness with them. You feel freer to express yourself when you’re not preoccupied with trying to come up with the “right” words you think they want to hear and not words that come from your heart.

The dictionary says that “language” is “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.” It comes from the Latin word, “lingua,” meaning tongue. [1]  We use words and language as a systematic way of communicating with each other.

As humans, we verbally articulate concepts with specifically selected “words.”  When putting these words together in a sequential order, we create “sentences,” which the dictionary describes as, “a set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate, conveying a statement, question, exclamation, or command, and consisting of the main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.”[2]

These sentences can eventually turn into endless pages of dialogue in our lives, expressing ourselves in various ways, every day we are alive.  It’s part of our human experience.  When we stop to look at the words we use to communicate, we have the opportunity to connect with each other in an even more profound way.


Using Words of Encouragement to Inspire, Uplift and Heal

Using words of encouragement in different situations are meant to inspire, motivate and uplift the spirit of humanity to another dimension, strengthening the heart and deepening the soul.  There are encouraging words for a friend, encouraging words for men, encouraging words for women, words of encouragement for people with cancer, words of encouragement for the dying, and even funny words of encouragement can be used, in sometimes the most serious of circumstances.

So, how do we use this “language” we have been given?  We use language to express love, desires, preferences, wishes, compassion, anger, hopelessness, faith, dreams, doubts, judgments, ideas, thoughts, fears, forgiveness, and everything else in between these. Every word/concept/belief carries a particular vibration, which can be felt by the individual to whom we are speaking. [3]

 Language is how we communicate with each other, so being conscious of the words we use and the meaning behind them is important.

Being a Language Catcher

I love catching words and language, and I catch them all with a big fat net!  Catching words that come out of our mouths at the moment is a powerful way to stay conscious and BE present. I remind my students how so important it is to pay attention to the words we USE because it sets us up for how we will FEEL.  For example, I sometimes ask my students to notice how many times they use the word “should,” during the day.  Being a catcher of “should” is a good thing, because just the word itself, sets us up for feeling less than.  No matter what follows the “should,” it makes us feel as if we didn’t quite do what was required.

When you become conscious of the words you use, you shift your mind and thus view on life forever.  You thus set yourself a “new norm.”  That’s right.  When you’ve decided this, and you embrace it, it’s FOREVER.  Language is contagious in that if you speak with words of kind encouragement, and never seek to harm with words, then others will follow you.

If you say, “I should go see my friend, who is dying,” there’s a knowing that perhaps you’ve delayed going, and not really wanting to foresee when to go either. That certainly induces uncomfortable feelings. It also can feed on your guilt about not going. You know you’re not going to go, yet when that person dies and you didn’t go, what do you think you’re going to say to yourself?  I “should have” gone.  Now how do you feel?  Even worse, I suggest.

You can either find a way to go visit that person or admit you are just too uncomfortable and you don’t want to see them in the condition they’re in.  Perhaps find a friend or a family member to go with – or even a nurse, who can give you a bit of guidance if the individual is having a good day or a bad day, so you avoid feeling as if you’re intruding on someone’s discomfort. Make your visit brief, yet filled with all the warmth and kindness you can convey in your demeanor.  This will help avoid that nasty little guilt factor coming up now and then for a very long time if you don’t go at all! However, the main point here is to remember that when someone is dying, it’s really about THEM, not you.  You are there for them, and so think only of the solace your presence can bring even for a few brief moments! You want to send them on their way with love and blessings, letting them know that they lived a beautiful life and that your life was blessed because they were part of it.

It does take a bit of awareness and practice to eliminate the word “should” from your language, and I guarantee you, your life will feel better.  Remember that when you are with someone who is dying, only words of love and words of encouragement work.

Don’t “Should” on Yourself or Others

The notion of letting go of “should” will also help you when someone decides to handle their dying experience the way they believe they can, even if you don’t agree.  It’s entirely up to that individual and it’s their decision!  My friend Toni didn’t want to engage in any alternative healing experiences when she was dying.  Everyone she knew, and who loved her, kept suggesting for her to see a variety of alternative healers but she held strong to her decision to go only with the medical route, which was radiation and chemo, even though it ran havoc on her body.  She wanted it that way, and that’s the way she got it.

It’s not up to us to judge how someone will handle his/her terminal illness.  It’s up to us to SUPPORT that person in whatever way THEY choose.  It’s about THEM, not US. It is especially important to remember this when visiting someone who is dying.  We do not want to make whatever they are experiencing worse by using language that can make them feel bad for making a decision about their end of life. It’s hard enough to be dying.

Based on some of my experiences with both clients and students, I believe that our society tends to form unfair judgments upon those who are sick and elderly in our society.  We view them as “weak” for not being able to “fight” the battle. When I was going through breast cancer, even though I wasn’t a “senior citizen”, I received some very harsh, insensitive behavior in the weakest moments of my fight from some individuals that I would have least expected.  The society also tends to focus on youthfulness, and the ailing and the elderly are often left to themselves. We are all doing our part in being human, and ALL of us are going to die too one day, so it’s important to choose one’s words very carefully from a place of kindness, lest any comment or behavior that resembles judgment further “injuries” the afflicted individual.

To worry or not to worry.  That is the question.  Words of worry are not words of encouragement.

A client once shared with me how tired and bogged down he was in his life, further saying that most of his time was spent worrying about different things.  Now we know that as a noun, the word “worry” is “a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.”[4] The language he used reflected his down spirit with his words.  In other words, his words were not those of encouragement but came out as discouragement.  He was so fraught with thoughts of worry for some things in his life, mostly his wife, children, money and even his boss to the extent that he couldn’t even function.

The intense worrying consumed him and affected his health. This worrying cycle can become a self-perpetuating one of the habit of finding negatives about everything, and it does take a personal decision to stop the cycle.  We’ve all had reasons to worry intensely over the course of our lifetime, however, the words you think with and that you speak must turn towards the positive side, reflect hope, and perhaps even a resolve to remedy some situation.  It is said that just about everything in life has a solution – except death.

Perhaps some of you may ask how do you stop the cycle?  I told my client that I would give him the answer with a 100% guarantee to living worry-free life.  He said, “Yes!  Worrying is killing me!  I would pay anything if I can live a worry-free life.  I’m dying over here!”

I said, “Okay, decide to take a walk into your mind and along the way find and remove the word, “worry” from your language.  Once you do this, I guarantee you will live a worry-free life.”  Living without the word “worry” means you need to come up with other ways to explain what you are thinking/feeling, and the challenge is not to use the word, “worry,” ever.  Worry is NOT loved!  I believe it’s a prayer for something bad to happen.

A week later at our next session, my client said he had managed significant conscientious awareness which enabled him to self-correct his language – both in thought and speech, and this changed his entire perspective on life and the people in his life!


The point is to be aware and hear oneself speak in order to understand the power of the words used – are they helpful and kind, or, are they harsh and insensitive. The decision and then the awareness can engage that change to happen.

Words of Encouragement for the dying.

Here are a few words that can be used for an individual who is dying. At a certain stage, the dying individual may be unconscious, however, they can hear everything since hearing is the last sense to go. Dr. Katherine Clark, a staff specialist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia has done extensive research in this area. She says, “There’s research based on electroencephalograms (EEGs) of people’s brain waves that indicate hearing is the last sense to go.”[5]

1- Avoid talking as if they’re not there, and remember to just ask anyone who has had a near-death experience, and they’ll relate every single thing that happened or that was said.

2- Let the dying individual know you are there, that you love them, that you wish them well on their journey, and that his/her life brought some value to you.

3- Say words that make them feel safe and loved.

4- Just hold their hand and patiently allow them to “hear” your kind presence.  When Anne Sullivan held Helen’s hand, Helen began feeling safe.  She didn’t use verbal words but used silent words of comfort. These are the types of words of encouragement you can use to send them on their way with love.

If the dying individual is conscious, you can use words of acknowledgment as to what that person is going through.  This may be the tough part, because that’s where it’s uncomfortable, however, just assure the person that you love them, you are there for them, and be yourself. You can perhaps mention some wonderful memories about their lives in ways that evoke fond feelings that were shared.  If something difficult comes up, though, just allow some moments to pass, and then focus on something else that feels better.

As a national trainer for The Twilight Brigade[6], I came across a structured practice called, a ‘Life Review’[7] that Hospice workers find very helpful in eliciting positive information from the patients.  It’s broken down into categories, and for times when one is left without words, such as in visiting the veterans, you consult a “cheat sheet” and ask a question about their favorite music or hobbies.  You can also ask/encourage your dying loved one to write letters to their family members, or if they are unable you can record them, or even write the letters for them. This is a way of tapping into their own value and the values they deem important to share and pass on to their loved ones.

One of the kindest things you can do is when you ask questions, make sure you are genuinely interested in hearing the answers.  You cannot fake sincerity, so do make sure you are genuinely interested in that person because they will feel it.

Healthy Reminders

  • Use words of encouragement as an approach that comforts your loved one.
  • To maintain a sense of humor, using even funny words of encouragement, when the moment is right.
  • Use the Life Review suggestions if you are tongue-tied.
  • Be genuinely interested and be present.
  • If you have no words, stay SILENT.  Silence is an extremely powerful space that sometimes needs not be filled.  Be in tune with your sense of when to speak and when not.
  • Trust yourself that the words will come to you by relying on your own heart.
  • Stay out of the judgment of what is happening.
  • Know that you are in service to a much bigger picture with each experience.  You are in service to humanity.  Our higher purpose is to shine love whenever and wherever we can, each in our own way.
  • Accept and hold the sacred dying experience with honor, dignity, and regard.

Using words of encouragement to people is a good habit to adopt for your own sake.  Practice by then listening to the responses they give you with an open heart.  Practice being present, and holding your own self with honor, dignity, and regard.  Just think of words of encouragement you want to give now, and that you’d like to hear from someone else.

Being alive is a gift.  Identify your way of bringing love into this world. If you feel discomfort with this, then it may mean that there’s something asking to change, so decide to not let discomfort stop you from being all that you can be, fully capable of being there for someone you love who happens to be dying.

It’s your life. Enjoy the journey.  And remember to bring love into everything you do.

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[6] training organization, based at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration that teaches volunteers how to be with veterans who are dying, and much, much more)