Recognising that your loved one may die in the near future can be confronting, but it’s also an important part of the grieving process. Sometimes it can feel like you’re grieving before they’ve even died, which can feel odd (but it’s also a very common experience – we promise).
Having a loved one die at home can add an extra layer of grief into the mix. They’re in a space where you likely share fond memories with them, and it can feel impossible to ‘escape’ the grief that lingers around the home during this time.
It’s important to learn and take note of the signs you might notice during their final moments so that you aren’t taken by surprise (although, let’s face it, you never truly expect the exact moment they’ll pass) when they take their final breath.
Signs to recognise during their final moments
If your loved one shows sudden improvement in their condition (ie. They become more aware of their surroundings, suddenly have more energy or lucidity than they had before, or become more talkative), it’s common for families and friends to become optimistic that they’re recovering. Unfortunately, though, this is very rarely the case. It is usually a sign that the end of the person’s life is near.
Changes in behaviour such as incontinence, confusion, mottled skin and changes in breathing are also a common occurrence at the end of someone’s life.
While your loved one can take a turn for the better in their final moments, or a turn for the worse, it’s important to remember that everyone’s final moments are different. Expect the unexpected, and try your best to remain as calm as possible. The days leading up to a loved one’s death can be challenging for so many reasons, but the first step to making the process a little more predictable is to expect unpredictability.
Making those final days, weeks or months that little bit easier
There are a range of steps you can take to make those final moments a little easier on you, and on those who are living in the same household as the dying person.
Here are a few things worth considering:
If a family member is choosing to die at home (or you have been put in a position to make that decision for them), then hospice care is definitely worth considering. A nurse will typically visit the home on a regular basis to ensure the patient is comfortable, reducing the burden on family and other primary carers.
We’ve written another article on hospice care (and how it differs from palliative care) in this guide.
While hospice care involves a nurse visiting the home to care for the dying patient, a death doula is a person who visits the home and plays the role of educator, and counsel. They work with the family to provide advice on a range of areas (depending on what the family is looking for). For example, funeral planning, initiating important conversations about death with the family, supporting the family through their grief, and they can sometimes even stay overnight to provide further emotional support.
Create boundaries and rules for visitors
While family and friends might want to visit the dying at times that best suit them (according to their work hours and schedule), it’s important to place the needs of you and your loved one first. Restrict visiting hours if possible, and consider only allowing a few people to visit at a time so as not to overwhelm the dying.
If death is imminent, it can be a good idea to start making cremation arrangements so that everything is in place when the time comes. There’s nothing more stressful than trying to plan your loved one’s cremation at the last minute.
If you are preparing for the imminent death of a loved one, the team at Willed can help ease the burden when it comes to making funeral arrangements. For many clients, knowing that Willed is on hand for when the time comes, provides an appreciated sense of relief and control. You can call them on 1300 945 533 or find out more here.
Chat to your family and friends
Speak with those closest to you and your loved one about what their final moments might look like. You might also discuss how you’re planning on making their last days as comfortable as possible. Remember you’re all there to look after one another and make this difficult time a little easier – call on them to support you, and find comfort in knowing you’re all in this together.
While there’s no ‘right’ way to prepare for a loved one to pass away – at home, in a hospital, or in a palliative care facility – it’s worth taking some time to jot down things that might help you better cope with the process, and help the dying feel as comfortable as possible. Put their needs first, but also take time out to look after you. Watching and caring for someone who is dying can be difficult on everyone, so find ways to practise a little self care during this time where you’ll likely need it.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as medical or legal advice.