Watching a loved one die is challenging for so many reasons; not only do you know they’re about to pass away, but they often know it too. Navigating this period can feel uncomfortable. What are you supposed to talk about when you can’t plan for the future? How are you supposed to tackle conversations surrounding upcoming events if you (and they) know they won’t be here to experience them? It’s hard. And taking care of yourself when you’re doing everything to support them during this time can feel exhausting.
Here are our recommendations when supporting a person who is dying.
Provide them with emotional support both when they need it, and when they don’t.
This might sound silly or overbearing (kinda like a helicopter friend or parent), but truthfully? Your loved one likely needs your support all the time if they know they’re dying. Allow them to speak about their feelings; whether they feel afraid or comfortable with the idea of death, or how they’re feeling about their final moments on this earth. Listen with an open heart and open ears, and allow them to speak without judgement. Be prepared for tears. Be prepared for laughter. And be prepared to just be there for them. Listening is the best way to support your loved one during this time.
If you find they aren’t wanting to discuss death, try and refrain from asking them too many questions. Instead, you can provide them with emotional support by just sitting with them while they read, watch TV, sleep, or eat. Sometimes saying nothing at all and just being present can be the most powerful way to support a loved one. Don’t be too hard on yourself if they’re choosing not to open up about their feelings; everyone copes with this process in their own way.
Provide them with physical support.
When death is on the horizon, a person’s body can begin to shut down; they might struggle doing everyday activities that they used to manage on their own, like moving from their bed to a chair, or putting on their shoes. This can be confronting to watch, but know that this is a completely normal part of dying, and a common experience shared by many. If you feel you’re able to, do what you can to support them as they struggle with these everyday tasks; help them tie their shoes, or create a firm grip around them as they move between their bed and their chair. Offering this kind of support before they ask for it is always a good idea, and shows your loved one you’re there to help them.
If you don’t feel strong enough (both physically or emotionally) to help your loved one in this way, you can call on a range of people and services to help them when they need it. Get in touch with your palliative care or hospice team if you feel they need a little extra help.
Give them a role in funeral and end-of-life planning.
Death can often make your loved one feel as though they’re about to lose control over their lives and what will happen to them after they pass. Providing them with the ability to share their thoughts and ideas around their funeral and end-of-life planning can help them feel a little more in control.
Help them fulfil their final wishes.
Do they want to achieve something before they die? Maybe there’s something they’re wanting to experience with you (or without you) before they pass away. Ask them to share their final wishes with you if they feel comfortable, and then work with them to make them come true. Providing them with this sense of achievement at a time they might feel like giving up can be incredibly powerful.
Manage anticipatory grief if it arises.
‘Anticipatory grief’ occurs when family and friends begin to grieve a person before they have died. This is a common experience, and one that can sometimes feel a little strange, especially because we know the person is still here.
If anticipatory grief arises, there are a range of actions you can take to combat the way you (or your family and/or friends) will be feeling.
- Speak to a therapist, psychologist, or counsellor.
- Talk to your loved ones about how you’re feeling, and allow them to talk to you.
- Join a support group.
- Listen to music or find ways to move your body. Music and exercise have been proven to help us feel better during difficult times, as they both work to trigger the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins.
- Spend time with your friends and family in person. Phone calls and FaceTime can be a great source of comfort when you don’t feel like leaving the house, but hanging out with them in person can be a positive source of support, in a different way to virtual support.
Spending time with a dying loved one is hard, but doing what you can to both support them and yourself can be the difference between a positive and not-so-positive end-of-life experience. Do what works for you and them, and be patient as you navigate this period together.
If you find yourself in the position of caring for somebody who is dying, let the team at Willed help. Our dedicated funeral planners are here to help you provide a dignified and affordable farewell. For a free quote, call 1300 945 533.