Caring for a Dying Loved One

Posted: April 10, 2018 8:00:00 AM CDT

hospital bed

I had always known death to be a very real thing. However, until someone close to you dies, do you really understand the full realm of emotions and the care and support you may have to provide your loved one who is dying? It was not until I was in high school that I started to understand what it truly takes to care for one who is dying. My grandmother passed away the summer before my senior year of high school, and although it was an extremely sad time for myself and whole family, it was also a very beautiful thing to witness and to be a part of the caring process. I have also been part of the caring realm in a very real way as a nursing assistant in a skilled nursing facility the past two years. Working in this capacity has given me the opportunity to serve in the caring process in a unique way. I whole-heartedly believe that being with and caring for someone as they are nearing the end of their life is one of the greatest things we can do for them.

There are many ways a loved one can help care for and comfort someone who is dying. Winker and DeAngelis (2010) share that one of the first things you can do is to let your loved one guide the conversations about the impending death. Do not force them into topics that they are not ready to discuss. Reassure them that you are there to listen whenever they need anyone to talk to. Just as this process is very emotional for yourself, it is even more so for them. Allow them the freedom to move at their own pace as they feel is right. Another important aspect is to focus on listening. Make sure that they know you care about their feelings, experiences, and thoughts. Do not try to out talk them or convince them of your own ways of thinking. Knowing that someone is actually hearing and truly listening to what you have to say is invaluable, especially for someone who is nearing the end of their life. Nancy Sherman, director of bereavement at Bertolon Center for Grief and Healing at Hospice of North Shore and Greater Boston emphasizes, “The greatest gift you can give is your time and attention” (Graves, 2012). This twenty-one-year-old still has a lot to learn about the world, but has a real passion for caring for the elderly and those who are near death, and I could not agree with that statement more. The situation, as a whole, tends to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Death is not an easy thing to deal with. However, it is important that we step beyond our own personal fears to give our loved ones the comfort and respect they deserve in their last days on this earth. There are so many emotional factors from everyone involved that it is important to be aware of them so that you are prepared to embrace the eventual struggles when dealing with death.

Along with making sure that you care for the multitude of emotional needs of your loved one, there a several physical factors to take into account. Casarett et al. (2005) gives advice on how to help ease the physical pain of someone who is dying. As a person’s body system begins to shut down, it is not uncommon for one to make restless or repetitive motions. Do not try to restrain these movements. Instead, find ways to help them calm down by speaking softly, gently stroking their hand, or playing calming music. Make sure to keep your loved one comfortable and clean. Offer to wash their face with a wet washcloth and make sure their clothes remain clean. Be sure to keep the temperature of the room comfortable to their standards despite how others in the room may feel. Those are just simple ways to ensure their dignity and comfort in that time in their lives. Another aspect to keep in mind is that just because one close to death may seem physically and emotionally incoherent, they do not lose all their senses. In fact, one of the last senses to leave the body is hearing. So, a person can hear as people are moving about the room or coming and going. Be mindful of that. Make sure to introduce yourself in a calming way when you enter their room. Speak calmly and let them know you are there just to be with them. Telling them you love them can mean so much all the way until the very end.

Caring for a dying loved one can be an extremely difficult experience, but doing that one last thing for someone can also be a very beautiful opportunity. There are many things that one can do to comfort someone who is dying. From experiences in my own life whether it be in a personal or occupational realm, I believe that it all comes down to two fairly simple concepts. Treat the dying with love and respect. If you enter into the situation or experience with those two things, everything else will follow. Make sure the dying know that they are loved and ensure their dignity as a human person until the very end.

Keywords: End of life care, aging population, death

Casarett, D., Crowley, R., Stevenson, C., Xie, S., & Teno, J. (2005). Making difficult decisions about hospice enrollment: what do patients and families want to know?. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53(2), 249-254.

Graves, D. (2012). Setting up and facilitating bereavement support groups: A practical guide. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Winker, M. A. & DeAngelis, C. D. (2010). Caring for an aging population. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303(5), 455-456.

By: Julia Daro

Category: General, Psychology

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