When Death is Near

There was always required reading throughout all my education.  The amount of reading paralleled the level of education.  Despite the required reading and along with the variety of reading that we do for pleasure or for a specific purpose, there is reading that I notice has been missed.  Fortunately, it is timeless.  This article will highlight information from the last days of life that doesn’t get talked about much.

We are born.  We live.  We die.  Here my focus is on dying:  more specifically, the commonalities in the dying process.  This content comes from my own experience and a short booklet titled “When Death Is Near: A Guide for Family and Loved Ones”.  It is my hope that this content will bring some reality to this very difficult topic while dissolving fear that accompanies a loved one dying.

If this article sparks your interest, feel free to contact SunSet Community Counseling by adding a comment (   ) and requesting a booklet.  Each dying process is unique.  No one can predict what their dying process will be like.  This information may help you dignify, respect and guide someone who has entered their last days.

  • Withdrawal

It is normal for a person who is dying to begin to withdraw from the public eye and their own world.  A dying person sleeps more and with that speaks less.  Studies show us the importance of gentle touch and that people can hear throughout the dying process, yet they lose their ability to respond.

  • Changes:
    •  in Eating
    •  in Toileting
    • in Breathing
    • in Body Temperature

It is normal for a person who is dying to transition in each one of these areas which may sometimes appear counter-intuitive.

It is normal for a person who is dying person to lose their appetite or experience cravings, but not eat what is provided because it doesn’t tastes good.   Changes in eating and meal elimination may be very difficult for loved ones to witness.  Food carries a lot of meaning, but in the dying process, the body does not need to be fed.  Weight loss is normal.  Remember that when there is no more hunger, there is no concern for starvation.

It is normal for a person who is dying to lose bladder and bowel control.  Their urine may become dark, cloudy or have a strong odor.  Constipation is common and cause discomfort which may increase with pain medication.  Over-the-counter stool softeners and laxatives are often prescribed to accompany pain medications.

It is normal for a dying person’s breathing to slow down and also become short and quick.  This type of breathing does not signify discomfort.  In a person’s weakening state, saliva gathers in the back of the throat.  The sound that results is also known as “death rattle”.  It may be unnerving for loved ones to hear.  Suctioning saliva is an option, but also may cause more discomfort than relief for the one who is dying.

It is normal for a person who is dying to get a fever and feel cold to the touch.  Skin color also changes.  Hands and feet become tones of purple and lips along with fingernails may appear bluish.

  • Confusion

It is normal for a person who is dying to sound confused, and may use metaphoric and symbolic language.  Side-effects of medication may also cause confusion.

  • Restlessness and Anxiety

It is normal for a person who is dying to present as restless or incapable being still.  This behavior may be repetitive.  Anxiety may build from worry or physical discomfort or pain. 

  • Wave of Energy

It is normal for a person who is dying to experience unexpected surge of energy.  They may show up in big or small ways.  This movement may bring on false hope that the person is getting better rather than an understanding that this too is part of the dying process.

  • Saying Goodbye

It is normal for loved ones to be unsure about when or how to say goodbye.  There is no right or wrong answer as to what to say.  Many resources suggest that loved ones verbally give permission to the person who is dying to die.  Goodbyes are commonly difficult and can be a gift to both the person dying and their loved ones.

  • When Death Is Near

It is normal for a person who is dying to show signs that their death imminent.

  • Moment of Death

It is helpful to have a plan prepared as to what to do at the time of death.  Death can be shocking even when we are prepared.

  • Care for Family and Loved Ones

The end of life of a person can be draining on loved ones as another transition begins.

There is much more to share.  This space doesn’t allow for me to share on topics such as the signs of imminent death; “What you can do:” and “What to expect:”.  I recognize the dying process is difficult topic to talk about, but maybe just maybe this information will dissolve the fear of dying and bring love to the forefront of dying.  Thank you for your attention. 

“The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand.  They are the moments when we touch one another, when we are there in the most attentive or caring way.”  Jack Kornfield