What Loved Ones Should Know About the End of Life
Despite death being inevitable, most people avoid learning about and discussing end-of-life care, whether for themselves or a loved one. While it may be uncomfortable to explore the subject, it can also be empowering and reduce the uncertainty and fear that often come along with this process.
This, of course, is especially important if the end of one’s life is known to be near. While everyone experiences death uniquely, there are some commonalities that are worth knowing about. There are also practical considerations to be dealt with, as well as emotional ones for those left behind.
Approaching the End of Life
Many factors will affect the dying experience for each individual. Some things that influence the end-of-life process include:
- Presence of disease, illness, or other medical condition
- Type of healthcare he or she is receiving
- Medication(s) and/or life-prolonging treatments
- Palliative care and/or entering a hospice program
- Cause of death itself
- Psychological buildup and coping mechanisms of the particular patient
For some people, the dying process might take a few weeks, several months, or even longer. For others, the transition from apparent good health to death might occur swiftly—within days or even hours.
Remember, the end-of-life process neither conforms to a timetable nor gives specific signals that indicate exactly how much longer a loved one will live.
That said, while there is no universal dying experience common to all, many people still exhibit some similarities as death approaches. Below are just a few.
Interactions With Others
Often, an individual might start to withdraw from family members, friends, and other loved ones, or show little or no interest in the social interactions, hobbies, and/or physical activities he or she once enjoyed. Others might still socialize and receive visitors, but or make it difficult to interact with them or to
Those who are dying often reflect on their lives and might attempt to resolve a troubled relationship or deal with any regrets. Working throughcan help individuals say goodbye to loved ones, find a sense of closure, and achieve a sense of peace as death approaches.
Sometimes a dying person might experience changes in sensory perception that result in delusions or hallucinations.1 The patient might manifest this, for example, by:
- Hearing or seeing things that don’t exist, resulting in fears about hidden enemies
- Speaking to people who are not in the room (or who have already died)
- Incapacity to follow a line of thought or a conversation without getting easily distracted, referred to as “inattention”
- Appearing agitated and picking at their clothing or bed sheets
- Making random gestures or movements that seem senseless to onlookers
Some dying people might experience a phenomenon known as—a recognition that something is happening to them, even if he or she cannot express it adequately.
Sometimes dismissed by caregivers asthe dying patient might talk or act as if he or she needs to prepare for a journey or share a vision about seeing a deceased loved one or a beautiful place.
While this is a natural process, there are some tasks that may need to be tended to and daily life challenges that present themselves.
Paperwork and Planning
During the end-of-life process, it is not uncommon for people to get their affairs in order, if they haven’t already (or for a trusted individual to help with this). For instance, these steps might involve highly practical matters, such as:
- Creating or finalizing a legal wwil
That said, it’s not uncommon for some people to avoid these things altogether, despite their usefulness.
In terms of spending time with others, some people who are dying want to see friends and acquaintances and others do not. This preference can even change from day to day. If you are acting as a gatekeeper for that individual, always ask permission before allowing visitors so you can respect your loved one’s wishes as best you can.
When someone you love is dying, it is perfectly natural to put your normal life on hold. You might want to spend as much time with them as possible and find it hard to think about anything other than helping them through this time. You may also feel on ‘high alert’ when you’re apart, waiting to hear news you dread. All of these things are normal and a natural part of your feelings.
Explain as best as you can to your family, friends, and co-workers what you are going through. Be sure they know that additional stresses, strains, or demands may be difficult for you to handle right now. Also, be honest about when you might need assistance.
Would it help to have your children pick up some of the chores at home? Can a friend provide dinners for your family? People often offer to help, but do not know what you need. This is your opportunity to let them know.
When Death Is Near
As death grows imminent, those who are dying often lose their appetite—even for their favorite foods or beverages—and lose weight. While this might prove alarming to the patient’s loved ones, this is a perfectly natural part of the end-of-life journey because the individual’s body requires less energy. In fact, the chemistry of the human body can change at this point and actually produce a mild sense of euphoria within the dying person.
In addition to , the dying individual will generally speak little, if at all, and might fail to respond to questions or conversations from others. They also might sleep a great deal, and physical activity will grow limited if not become absent completely.