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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. 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.


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