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7 Care Tips for When Someone You Love Is Dying

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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.

Last revised: September 23, 2013

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. December 20, 2021 at 9:32 pm | Posted by Teresa

    I'm about to head to help care for my sons grandmother. I have zero experience taking care of someone who is passing away. Any and all advice is welcome. She's not able to make blood anymore due to blood cancer.


    • December 29, 2021 at 12:07 am | Posted by Jennifer Klein

      Your caring presence is key. Think of how you would feel Lying helpless in bed and let that be your guide. Just as you would with an infant, try to make them comfortable—are they too cold, too hot? Feet cold? Etc. read to them. Play their favorite music. Sit quietly with them. To attend your loved one on their journey to pass from this life is an honor although it might not feel like it all the time.


  2. December 19, 2020 at 9:35 am | Posted by Chae Rafuse

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  4. April 11, 2020 at 9:50 pm | Posted by Betty

    I am caring for my daughter slipping away after a year long battle with pancreatic cancer. I had two other children last in 1994 and 1995. She's my last one. She's an angel on Earth, way better person than I was. I'm having trouble dealing with that "elephant" in the room.......I have a hard time talking to jy and daughter about her death. Help.


  5. December 30, 2019 at 6:48 pm | Posted by Cape

    It is a very different story in third world countries where there is no welfare state to provide support other than basic medicines; where the family has little resource and is out working in order to survive at a very basic level; and where there is little collective wisdome and frankly little individual intelligence or understanding of what needs to be done. There is much pain suffering and anguish and because of little preparation, usually a terrible mess is left behind. Underlying all this is a taboo about death I mean practical and emotional management. You in the West are able to die in relative peace and dignity, and your legacy is captured and well managed and accumulated for the next generation.


  6. September 26, 2019 at 6:23 pm | Posted by Valorie

    My husband is very sick with multiple problems. He does not want to die. It is very difficult to look after him at home because he can hardly walk, he needs dialysis every 2nd day, he cannot dress himself or hardly get himself into bed. He has been in and out of hospital over the last year. He is also very angry and sometimes speaks harshly to me. He constantly has accidents which require me to clean up in the bathroom. He drops almost everything and can be messy. I feel like I am caring for a 2 yr. old having to follow him throughout the house incase is falls or forgets which foot first or lock his breaks on the walker. I have realized that my family and friends do not really take an interest in him because of past situations. I have found that I can no longer share my pain with them because of ridicule from them. I just want some compassion and understanding from them and some respect for him because he is very sick. My sister told me to put a pillow over his face......she says she was joking but that kind of talk really hurts me. I feel alone now and would like to just be able to share with someone my true feelings. Am I really alone in this or is there someone else who has experienced this awful situation.


    • September 27, 2019 at 10:55 am | Posted by Aretha Kelly

      Hello Valorie. Your post breaks my heart. I definitely am not a "professional" in this field but have been through 3 difficult deaths of immediate family member. The most difficult was my mom. She was a tall, strong red head all the way to the end. She was very difficult to deal with at times. Luckily, I had supportive siblings who helped carry the burden. Every emotion I hear from you sounds completely normal, including the anger and aggravation. Please take some "me" time whether it be a walk, long bath, etc. Also, there will come a time when you are unable to do this alone. My mom went to a hospice home and it was a great experience in the midst of her death. They were warm, compassionate and caring to all of us, including mom. She did not want this to be where she died. However, we could no longer care for her adequately and felt it was our only option. We stayed there with her 24/7 and had a mini family reunion! You may feel this is not an option you have. I just want you to take care of you also. God bless! You are not alone!!


  7. July 15, 2019 at 8:32 am | Posted by Alicia

    My husband's brother is dying of cancer. Long story short they didn't have a relationship till 5 yrs. Ago because of messy divorce. He has stage 4 pancreatic cancer and now they are putting him in hospice. His x-wife doesn't want him in her house. Me and my husband both work but understand that he can't die alone. We agreed to take him in. We don't know what to expect. We don't have power of atty. His x-wife is selling his house. We love him but we don't want to be taken advantage of because of it. Please let us know what should we be doing at this time.


  8. July 7, 2019 at 1:36 am | Posted by Meagan Dixon

    Wow! I am also my mothers caretaker. She has Copd and her Fev -1 is 15%. She is in palliative care and so is my dad. I am currently trying to get paid for being their caretaker. It’s a process. Don’t know anything yet. Sympathy and love for all of you.


  9. May 3, 2019 at 9:26 pm | Posted by Faith

    I'm not sure if anyone can relate but my mother is currently in a nursing home battling stage 4 copd and also recovering from a stroke. The doctors say there's nothing they can do and that we now need to focus on making my mother comfortable and stop the aggressive treatments. I quit my job two years ago and have been taking care of her since. My mother is not getting the best of care where she is now and I want her to come home so I can take care of her til the very end. I'm scared, anxious and my family is unsure if my mother coming home and being with me is the best option. My mother just wants to be home, with us, safe and comfortable and that is all I want for her. I want her home with me and I want tto take care of her but I'm just so scared and anxious, I don't know what to do. Is anyone able to share what they would personally do?


    • May 12, 2019 at 8:19 pm | Posted by P

      I understand the feeling. It can be overwhelming at times. It feels like you are all alone and doing all the work. We took my mom and grandmother home from the nursing home (not at the same time). We were told my grandmother wouldn't last long. It took about 8yrs before she past. My mom spent a year in the hospital. Me being the second oldest everything fell on me. That was 6years ago. When I needed help my family was there. My mom right now is doing great!! She has her tired days from dialysis but she cooks and stays at Walmart. Lol When your heart is in the right place your mind will follow. You can do it!!! I currently take cake of a man who went home from hospice. The support he has around him is great!!! You need that team. Stay strong. Praying everything works out for you.


    • June 4, 2019 at 9:01 am | Posted by Vanessa

      Try to find a local Hospice that can provide you with a RN, Social Worker and other assistance. A social worker can help you figure out how to get paid to be a full-time caregiver. Many large hospices have other programs outside of hospice that you might not be aware of that can also help, such as a palliative program. Good luck and sending lots of love your way. You are an amazing human being.


    • June 8, 2019 at 6:05 pm | Posted by Jenny

      Hi Faith. I too am looking after my mom who is in the final stage of copD.What a excruciating disease. She is 3 years in this final hell of dying one breath at a time. She has slowly deteriorated to , no more life in her. Every breath ,is work. . I would do it again, but I would not of been able, without my husbands understanding. The worse and hardest thing I have ever gone through. I hope if you decide to do it, ask for help.


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