Watching for Death to Come

Dying is a process and although not every person experiences the same physical changes as they move toward death there are enough similarities that you can know when the end is getting closer. It is hard to witness these changes but being aware means you are better able to help and to offer love right to the end.

The Process

Months out the first change to come is that your loved one will begin to disconnect from life and turn inward socially. Their need for conversation may lessen and they will want less company. They begin to think and process their lives. This processing of their life is vital for them to find closure and peace. They are ending relationships, roles and having to come to terms with letting go of life and loves here on earth.

– Be available to listen or talk as they want.

There are physical changes in appetite, bowels and bladder, sleep and breathing. As the body begins to shut down appetite lessens, intestinal functions slow and more sleep is needed. The rhythm of breathing changes, pauses and momentarily stops. Their skin color can flush or be bluish. Body temperature can fluctuate and congestion or coughing may start.

– Check for pain and administer medications as needed. Try to keep them as comfortable as possible. Realize this shutting down of the body is normal although difficult to watch.

There are mental changes that happen as death approaches. Confusion may start as the changes in the body continue and effect the brain. They may not know where they are or even who you are. They may feel the need to go on a trip and try to get ready to leave. They may have a surge of energy and want to get up for an outing and be chatty.

– Be patient, be supportive, care for them as you would want to be.

Your loved one has experienced many emotional changes but as death approaches you may find them moving toward acceptance and peace. The changes in their emotions are part of them processing their life and letting go. It may have been a roller-coaster but the dips diminish and the ride becomes smoother as you near the end.

– Help them to find closure. They may need to forgive, to make amends, to tell their story. Be there for them to listen and support and help them come to peace.

Many people experience spiritual changes as they reevaluate what they have believed and what will happen after death. You may see them talking with someone you cannot see as the veil between this life and the next thins for them.

– Listen as they process and ask if they need someone to talk with or to pray with.

Over time all these changes intensify as the end comes nearer yet symptoms may come and go. They sleep more now and interact even less. Their physical changes become more pronounced and they may move into unconsciousness. Their breathing will become more irregular, blood pressure and pulse harder to find. Circulation lessens and extremities may become purple, blotchy and cold. You may see their eyes half open and glassy in the days before their death.

You may see your loved one become restless and unable to get comfortable. They might pull at the bedding and move around continuously. This “terminal restlessness” can be an indication that death will happen within days.

– Check pain medications and continue to care for them as best as you can.

At the end they can no longer be awakened. There might be a sudden convulsion or spasm. Breathing is very shallow and rapid with the mouth open and may stop only to start again after a long wait.

– It is thought that hearing is the last sense to go so speak to them from your heart even when they can no longer respond.

Death. Then heartbeat and breathing stop. Your loved one is no longer present and the journey is over.

It is okay to feel whatever you feel.