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7 Care Tips for When Someone You Love Is Dying

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September 23, 2013

As your mother, father, grandparent or someone close to you nears the end of life, your loving care matters more than ever. But, as the family caregiver who shared the following story found out, sometimes it’s hard  to know how to best navigate those challenging circumstances.

“Looking back, I regret how much I tip-toed around the fact that my mom was dying. When we moved her into a room at the hospice house she said, ‘Well I guess I’ll miss Christmas this year.’ It was early December and we had brought a small tree to decorate her room. My immediate reaction to her gloomy comment was “Aw, no Mom! We’ll bring Christmas to you!’ But the look on her face told me she knew just as well as I did that she wouldn’t make it to Christmas.”

Here are seven tips that may help you and your dying loved one confront the reality of your circumstances and approach the end of life with more restful reassurance.

  1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room. The big “Ds,” death and dying, can seem awkward to talk about. Tiptoeing around death can actually add stress. If you don’t know where to start, just follow your loved one’s lead.
  2. It’s okay to express your emotions, even your sadness, in front of your loved one. You may feel the urge to pretend that everything is all right, but expressing your feelings gives your loved one freedom to be honest about his or her feelings in front of you. You loved one will likely feel relieved that you understand what’s occurring.
  3. Your presence matters. Even if hospitals make you uncomfortable or you’d rather remember your loved one fully functional, showing up probably matters more than your loved one can say.
  4. Create meaningful conversation. People at the end of life usually prefer to recall happy memories with those they love and find closure. Try to focus conversation around themes  like forgiveness, thankfulness and love between friends or family members and themselves. Use the Life Legacy Worksheet to assist in having meaningful conversations with your loved one.
  5. Listen carefully for any messages your senior loved one would like to convey. Sometimes, people approaching death may try to communicate an important message to those around them, even if they’re unable to speak clearly. If this happens, don’t immediately assume it’s nonsensical babble; try to understand what your loved one is trying to say.
  6. Find out answers to typical end-of-life questions. If your loved one can still think rationally and communicate clearly with you, use the five wishes document to learn about your loved one’s end-of-life preferences. Knowing the answers to questions like “where do you hope to spend your last days?” can help you ensure your loved one remains comfortable until the very end.
  7. Be mindful of legal documents. Know what end-of-life legal decisions have already been made, such as a living will or a designated healthcare power of attorney. A living will describes wishes for medical treatment, including the use of life-prolonging treatment at the end of life. A healthcare power of attorney is appointed to act on behalf of your loved one regarding medical treatment decisions. Knowing and respecting these decisions can help you carry out your last one’s wishes with confidence.

With these tips for supportive care, you’ll likely be able to make the most of the time you have left with your loved one, help that person feel as comfortable as possible, and bring the closure needed to move on peacefully.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 4, 2015 at 10:26 am | Posted by Joanne Way

    My stepfather is dying of cancer at home with my Mom . She has diabetes with complications and is getting very confused. He is mad at the world. No one can do anything right to please him. My told me the other day thst she hates him because he is so miserable. Our family is all caring for them , I get their meals at supper. It is very hard to go there and not get down. Mom refuses to talk about what is going to happen after he passes. We know she has to go to a nursing home but she said she will kill herself first. I am very depressed living through, I had to take time off of work. Is there any answer?

    Reply

    • August 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Posted by Cat Koehler

      I am so sorry you are going through this, Joanne. Your step-father may be very frightened - frightened to what is happening to him, to what will happen to your mother. Try looking at the situation through that lens. Maybe even ask him if he is frightened. Assure him that you'll be here to help your mom. Your mom is also likely afraid and uncertain. Have a good heart to heart with her. And remember to take care of yourself through all of this as well.

      Reply

  2. May 20, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Posted by Lynne

    I'm glad I found this blog. It feels better knowing I'm not alone in this journey and the helplessness and frustration is normal..

    Reply

  3. June 18, 2014 at 1:18 am | Posted by Janene Carey

    People facing the final days and weeks of a loved one may be interested in a book I've just published, called "A Hospital Bed at Home: Family stories of caregiving from diagnosis to death". Its focus is terminal illness from the caregiver's perspective, but each story includes actual end-of-life situations and relationships as they played out for particular families. It is available as paperback and ebook from many online bookshops, including http://www.amazon.com/Hospital-Bed-Home-caregiving-diagnosis/dp/0992423600/

    Reply

  4. December 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Posted by dawn

    My dad passed at home with his family around him he had told me in clearer days that he was afraid to leave my mom alone. I remembered this very clearly when he was close to death. I held his hand in mine and told him it was okay to let go that I would make sure my mom was taken care of. A peace came over him and he passed soon after. Many of my family members were angry that I told him it was okay to die .I was not wishing him gone merely fulfilling his wish that my mom would be taken care of. I will never regret my decision.

    Reply

  5. October 26, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Posted by MK Cavazos

    I recently lost a client that I had been assigned. My client was already bedridden with a terminal illness and hardly spoke but I knew of client from the pictures and certificates displayed proudly in the home. Even though I didn't talk with client, I did pray to God to ease client's burden. My prayers were answered and I know deep in my heart, client's in God 's hands! I know that my faith in God has helped me deal with this loss, thank you God for your guidance and love.

    Reply

  6. October 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Posted by Edgard Pascual

    Does anybody think about the grandeur of going home to eternal life. Talk to your loved ones about seeing the Lord Jesus Christ to touch His face. Wouldn't you want to have that too. Do not tip-toe on tulips about seeing heaven. It is absolutely politically correct. For those who would say do not talk about God --then do not talk about God with them. Do not give your pearls to the pigs --they will just trample on them. Encourage the dying by telling them --this is just the beginning of your real life. Rejoice Mama, rejoice Papa! I will see you later! Edgard Pascual

    Reply

  7. October 15, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Posted by Mark

    I was a caregiver for my wife for nearly three years. These tips even though I am seeing them now were some of the things I was able to do. She was not a senior but these work for all we are caring for. I have written an essay on caregiving and can be found here: http://bioc.net/blog/2013/8/21/caregiving-my-opinion-and-experience.html "Are we born caregivers? Do we surrender to caregiving? Where do we learn to be a caregiver? How do we measure caregiving?"

    Reply

  8. October 9, 2013 at 11:24 am | Posted by Shirley Jimeno

    I am gerontologist working in a capacity of geriatric case manager. Appreciate any updates, tips that would help enhance the continuum of care for older adults. Thank you

    Reply

  9. October 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Posted by ann

    You probably already know all this. Love you!

    Reply

  10. October 3, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Posted by Barb Trout

    My mother hasn't said my name in 7 years~ she cannot or does not speak, has been in a nursing home for almost three years. She only drinks Ensure for nutrition and sleeps for hours on end~I visit her often but the long good bye is taking its toll on me. How long can this go on? She is 92 and has not had any major health issues!

    Reply

    • November 1, 2013 at 8:23 am | Posted by Lisa

      That has got to be the saddest thing I have read in a long time. Unfortunately, hospice cannot step in because of old age. If she takes any meds at all I would talk to her doctor to see if he/she would agree to taper back on them or stop them all together. I am not trying to sound cruel but it is already cruel for her to be like this and for you to have to see this.

      Reply

      • December 16, 2015 at 7:41 pm | Posted by Jennifer V.

        Oh my goodness....that seems a bit extreme to me. Has the caregiver taken a vacation? Is anyone else capable of stepping in for a while? Look into some type of nurses aide program to allow yourself some time to breathe. You don't have to go everyday to see her. If shes in a nursing home, you should trust shes being cared for. Most importantly, pray for God's guidance!

        Reply

    • April 22, 2015 at 7:48 am | Posted by mary beth Helms

      Being a caregiver for aging parent is rewarding but can also be exhausting and frustrating. It impacts every other aspect of your life. I'm not sure where you are but my parents both made it into their 90's and were on hospice at the end. It gave me another hour a week to be able to do other things, my family was involved too so that helped a lot. I don't know your circumstances but at 92 and with a sad quality of life why the ensure? Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have traded those times I had with them for anything but I do know how it can affect you. I would love to reach out and give you a hug but all I can do is type. Good luck and find support for you, I found crying in the Walmart parking lot doesn't work well. Lol

      Reply

  11. October 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Posted by Lisa

    I'm the family caregiver interviewed for this article, and I can't tell you how much I wish I had been more open with my Mom in those last two weeks -- instead of trying to pretend everything was normal. Time was far shorter than we imagined and there are lots of things we never talked about. You get only one shot at those precious last conversations, don't waste it.

    Reply

  12. October 3, 2013 at 11:56 am | Posted by Pat

    What wonderful information. I lost my husband recently to ALS (Lou Gerhig's Desease) and it was to say the least VERY touch. He was proudly a Vietnam Veteran and the VA admitted Agent Orange was a contributing factor. Our daughters, family and close friends were around my husband and I constantly which was a great comfort when the air was so heavy. Yes, you're exactly correct in saying you should ALWAYS take the time even though uncomfortable, to discuss final wishes and great memories of their lives. Our memories are the patchwork quilt that becomes priceless in our later years of life. Blessings.....

    Reply

  13. October 3, 2013 at 7:48 am | Posted by Noris l Padron

    I loved this tips, but can you tell me how to find peace when your love one died, and you were not able to be there with him. It's the most awful pain and sadness that anybody can experience.

    Reply

    • October 15, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Posted by Mary

      There is no one way to find peace that works for everyone. My mom committed suicide last year and it had been a while since any of her children had spoken with her (myself included). We are all handling our grief and guilt differently. Some stuff it away with drugs or food or work and pretend not to hurt. Myself, I found people who would listen to my story with empathy and encouragement. Also, I journal. Long walks in the woods, wailing at the top of my lungs helped me process the pain when I needed to get it out. All I know is that you cannot go around it, you must go through it. You feel it and move on the best you can. Then you feel it again and again until it is not the only thing in your life. I'm sorry for your loss and the sorrow you feel. Good luck to you. May the days when you no longer feel the weight of your sadness come soon.

      Reply

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