We all die, and while we are aware of this throughout life, it still comes with unexpected realities. Death is an ending, whether or not it leads to a new beginning. This is hard to fully grasp both by those who are dying, and those who love them. Even the most stoic among us feel an intense array of emotions that we are often not prepared for. Caring for someone who is near death is an incredibly difficult experience. When this happens to someone we love, we are in great need of comfort, but we are also keenly aware our loved one needs comfort too. Being able to comfort someone during this time requires an understanding that can be difficult to acquire. It helps to learn about such a person’s perspective. Here are some common themes.
Will this hurt?
Avoiding pain is a top priority for most people. So it comes at no surprise that one of the biggest fears of dying is the pain that may be accompanied with it. People are more afraid of dying than death itself because they fear pain. What can you do when this happens? The extent of any pain felt by your loved one will depend on their specific condition, but most conditions will be associated with at least some pain. For advanced cancer patients, the rate is about 70%, and it is 65% for those dying from non-malignant disease. Palliative care is available for those at the end of life to help manage such pain. This type of care is designed to help those who suffer from a condition that is not responsive to curative treatment. Pain management can sometimes prove difficult and about 10% of patients will have such difficulties. If your loved one has this experience you should visit specialists to discuss alternative options. There is a common misconception that pain relief at the end of life can shorten one’s life, but clinical studies and experts have found this to not be true. Providing a greater than necessary amount of morphine or another opioid required by the patient can lead to death, but when only enough of the drug to relieve the pain is used there is little cause for concern.
Am I a burden?
With the loss of more independence comes the concern that you are being a burden on others. Your loved one may worry that you spend too much time to take care of their needs, especially if you have reduced your work hours to account for these adjustments. Cost will also be a concern, either from the cost of lost wages, or the direct cost of hiring a personal caregiver. More serious conditions will require tasks that are more difficult, which can increase the stress levels of the primary caregiver. It is important to remind your loved one that you are caring for them (whether this is directly or through funding expenses) because you want to, and that you want them to enjoy the time you have left together as much as possible.
Will those I leave behind be able to cope?
Those who grow old understand all too well the difficulty of loss, as they have lost loved ones throughout their lives. They will worry about how their death will affect those around them, and if everyone will be taken care of. Reassurance that a spouse, children, and any other important people to your loved one will have a strong future is important. Open communication, and clear plans for these people will greatly help relieve this concern.
Will I be alone in the end?
The very fact that you are reading this blog post means that you care considerably about your loved one, and it is likely that they are aware of this. Still, dying alone is a very common fear, and as the end nears, this fear will become heightened. Having people around will be important to combat the loneliness your loved one may feel during this time, but also important is that they feel understood and accepted by these people. Most people don’t get the chance to write a memoir, so being understood by those they leave behind is something that is critical to many before they die.
Do they know how much I care?
Some people find it very difficult to adequately express their feelings to others. A serious concern that those near death have is that their loved ones don’t understand how much they truly care. One way to reassure your loved one that you’ve felt their love over the years is to bring up some favourite memories. Mention a time that you needed help, and highlight how they were there for you. Another way to get your loved one to open up is to tell them how much you care about them. Beginning the exchange this way may make it easier for them to express themselves.
Should I have done anything differently?
Life often presents us with many twists and turns and it can be difficult to navigate through the chaos. This can lead to feelings of regret, and such feelings impact us much more when we are near the end of our lives. Your loved one might come to seriously reconsider the decisions they made during key moments, and what would have happened if they had chosen differently. These regrets often go beyond individual decisions to general habits they may have had. Some common examples are: not staying in touch with friends, living life as others expected them to, and working too hard. They will be aware that it is too late to change their lives, but it can provide comfort to discuss these regrets with those they love. Listen to them during this time as they try to warn you not to make similar mistakes.
Was there a point to it all?
The classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, has a main character that wishes he had never been born. He is then shown throughout the movie that he has actually had a positive impact on many people throughout his life that would have been worse off had he never existed. Your loved one may experience similar doubts about whether their life had a positive impact on those around them. Comfort them by telling them how much you care, and how you have benefited by their love and attention throughout the years. They will be able to see how much you care through your actions, but it is important to use verbal reinforcement. The more people you can get to do this the more relieved and happy your loved one will feel.
What’s on the other side?
A large part of the fear involved in dying is that no one knows what happens after. Many people hold strong beliefs, but this can be accompanied by uncertainty, which leads to fear. Is there an afterlife, or is this it? If your loved one has religious beliefs try to ensure that they have access to a spiritual leader of their faith. Even a member of their religious community can offer great support. If they have expressed to you previously that they do not hold any strong spiritual beliefs, raise the topic with them again and see if they would like to reconsider and be comforted during this time. Remember to respect their wishes whatever they be, and to not try to force any beliefs on them, or get rid of any of their current beliefs, as this could cause unnecessary stress.
This cannot be an exhaustive list, as people have different concerns and desires, so ensure that you communicate openly with your loved one. Ask them to tell you how they are feeling, and to not hold anything back, and please do likewise. Only you can be the judge of whether there are certain things better left unsaid, but it is often the case that your loved one will sense when things are wrong, and will already be aware of the situation. Evaluate your unique circumstances accordingly, and make every effort to comfort your loved one as the end nears. Try to understand what is important to you and your loved one, so that you avoid experiencing regret after they pass on.
Consider Palliative Care
End of life decisions are always difficult for seniors as well as their families. Palliative care enables seniors to continue aging with dignity and comfort in their own homes. Many seniors find that living in their own homes during this difficult time adds comfort and increases their quality of life compared to spending their remaining time in a nursing home or medical center.
Discuss your loved one's preferences with them to see what care system can fulfill their wishes. Our caregivers are also available to live with your loved one to provide around-the-clock care. Contact us more information.