What to do when someone you love is dying

Kate BucklandBlog

How do you know what to do when someone you love is dying? Losing someone you love is one of the hardest experiences you will ever go through. When that time comes, please remember that you are not alone.

The most important piece of advice we can give you about what to do when someone you love is dying is to take your cues from your loved one. Listen to them. Perhaps they want to talk about it; perhaps they don’t. Maybe they want to spend every moment they have left living life to the fullest; perhaps they want to spend their time surrounded by the people, things and animals that they love.

How we respond to death is influenced by our own life experiences and beliefs around death – everyone responds differently. We encourage families to have conversations about death and what their final wishes are long before that time comes. Often we find that people who are dying want to talk about it, but they are worried about upsetting the people that they love. They may worry if they talk about their impending death that their loved ones will worry they have given up hope. While these conversations can indeed be difficult, it’s important to allow these discussions to happen and can be a valuable experience for both you and your loved ones.

When someone you love is dying, their needs and wishes must be respected and come first. It can be easy to get swept up in your own emotions, but it is vital that everyone involved remembers that it is the person dying who should remain at the centre of all conversations and actions.

If someone you love is dying, you might not feel prepared or ready for them to go. Please know that this is normal, and support services are available to help you during this time. Disease related charities such as the Cancer Council, or your local hospital’s palliative care team will be able to give you guidance and support during this time, not only about how to look after the person in your care, but also about how to look after yourself.

If you’ve never lost someone close to you before, being around someone who is dying can be a frightening experience – if you feel this, it’s important to realise that it’s normal, and not to be ashamed of your fears and feelings. We suggest that you learn what to expect in the days, weeks and months ahead to allow you to ease your fear and confusion. Doing so will also help you to plan for the journey you and the person you care about are to go on together, and for the feelings and experiences that will happen during this time.

Talking with someone who is dying

We understand that talking with someone who is dying can be frightening. It’s normal to feel anxious, especially if the person is someone you love.

Virtalhospice.ca suggests letting the person know that you are aware the end is near for them and reassuring them that they don’t have to ‘tiptoe’ around the subject. What is most important is what they dying person needs – ultimately it is their choice if and when there will be a discussion around death. Do not try to force them to talk about their illness or dying, however if they choose to have this discussion with you, it is important that you engage in that conversation and are not impatient to change the topic, even if it makes you feel upset or awkward. Remember, we are humans, not stone – it’s okay to show some emotion. If someone you love is dying and chooses to discuss it with you, you can gently encourage open conversation with them by inviting them to share what they are experiencing with you, ask what they think is happening or you can offer to help them make a list of questions to ask their doctor.

It’s important not to talk about your loved one as if they’re not there when speaking with their health care team. They should be very much a part of the conversations that take place around their end of life care.

For more tips around the gathering of family near the end, thank yous, forgiveness and saying goodbye, we recommend this article.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is mourning the loss of something before it is gone – in this case, mourning the loss of your loved one before they have died.

Anticipatory grief is very common, and help is available if this is something that you are experiencing. Click here for more information about what it is and where to get help.

Pre-planning a funeral

Pre-planning your funeral or the funeral of a terminally ill loved one can be a weight off both your and their shoulders. Our compassionate and friendly team will meet with you and walk you through each step of the process so you can make the right choices for yourself or your loved one. For more information on why you should pre-plan your funeral, see this article.