Providing a comforting presence at the end of life

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Dr, Eric Bush, Chief Medical Officer for Hospice of the Chesapeake and Chesapeake Supportive Care.

Dr. Eric Bush

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they face death. If not their own, then that of someone they know. Though the process can vary from person to person, there are many common indicators that are signals to medical experts that a patient is dying.

One to three months before death, the knowledge that “yes, I am dying” becomes real. This can lead them to withdraw from the world, including from their loved ones. As they begin to enter a journey of introspection, they may begin to evaluate one’s self and the life they have lived. They begin to spend more time sleeping and may stop communicating with their friends and family.

This disconnect can cause loved ones to reflexively withdraw from those who are dying. Resist this urge. Continue to talk to your loved one, even if you get no response. Your voice and the voices of others are soothing and keep the person connected to family and loved ones. Most end-of-life experts agree that the auditory sense is the primary sense used before death.

Make sure your loved one knows they are still very much a part of your world by placing family photos where they can see them.

There are simple ways to provide a comforting presence, to let them know they are loved and are still very much a part of your world. Place photographs of family where the person can see them. Add something new to their room every few days for variety. For example, a child’s drawing or a vase of flowers. If possible, open a window so the person can hear the sounds of nature. Open their curtains to let in natural light and situate the bed so the person can see outside. Also, put a calendar and clock within their view.

Move some family activities to the person’s room to avoid a feeling of isolation. Even if the person is unresponsive, knowing they are part of the family can be soothing. For example, watch a movie, play a game, or eat a meal in their room. Be sensitive to signs that the person is tired or would prefer to be alone and respond accordingly.

Take advantage of the services that are offered through your hospice program’s integrative arts programs, including therapeutic music, aroma therapy, guided meditation and others. These services can also serve to benefit the family who are caring for or visiting with the patient.

This disconnect can cause loved ones to reflexively withdraw from those who are dying. Resist this urge. Continue to talk to your loved one, even if you get no response.

It can be difficult for family and friends to accept that their loved one is transitioning to death. If the patient is under hospice care, reach out to a member of the interdisciplinary team caring for the patient – the doctor, nurse, aide, chaplain or social worker – and ask for guidance and resources to help you understand the dying process.

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