Supporting Your Loved One at the End Stage of Life

“And then we ease him out of that worn-out body with a kiss, and he’s gone like a whisper, the easiest breath.”
~ Mark Doty

 

Welcome to the second post in my Wednesday series on death and dying.

Today I’d like to talk about the end stage of life, and what you might expect as a loved one or carer. Death is something we have become less familiar with in our modern, western world. Most of us are quite removed from the process of dying, and of being with the dead after death has occurred.

I’ve been privileged to sit with and support over thirty people now as they transitioned from this world and this has taught me a great deal about the process of the letting go of our physical bodies.

I have learned that we each die in our own way, and in our own time. Someone who dies quickly, as a result of an accident or sudden illness will have a different journey to someone who is dying slowly – such as might happen with a terminal illness or old age.
The only thing that’s ever important is to help the dying person to be as comfortable as possible, to touch and reassure them, and to be with them. Love and care is what matters.
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The physical aspects of dying:
As a person enters this last stage they gradually begin to withdraw from the activities of daily life, even things that once held interest for them. They begin to sleep more. Conversation often becomes taxing. Appetite decreases and then leaves. There is simply less energy as the body begins to slow down and then shut down. They will become less responsive to your touch. Less responsive to your voice. Even in the middle of all of this the dying person may rally and be more ‘with it’ for periods of time. They may engage with you, or regain a little appetite. These windows of clarity and strength are quite normal. But they are windows. Please do not raise your hopes that this is a sign of some dramatic turn-around.
I have seen a woman who had been unresponsive for days suddenly become alert and sit up in bed for a final conversation with her brother, who had travelled for two days from across the globe to be at her bedside. She died shortly after, peacefully and easily.
The morning before my grandmother Marga’s death she was suddenly hungry, after days with little or no food or liquid. She ate one last meal of a few small mouthfuls of soft food – a soup, a little of some lamb roast and vegetables, followed by stewed apple and custard. She enjoyed it immensely, telling us over and over again that it was good. Food had always been one of my grandmother’s great pleasures. Then she talked with my mother and sister and I for an hour or so, breathless and fragile as she was, to tell us that she was surprised to still be ‘here’ and alive. She had been sure she was ‘almost gone’. A day later, she was.
As a person moves towards death their digestion closes down, swallowing becomes difficult, bowel and bladder function changes and slows (there can be loss of bowel and bladder function), and eventually they will only want just a sip of water, or a sponge soaked in a soothing liquid to moisten the mouth and lips. You can also use a balm to keep the lips moist. The body no longer needs nourishment. This is normal, and part of the withdrawal process.
The eyes become heavy lidded, or may stay half-open. The mouth might gape open too. Everything is relaxing and letting go. Your loved one’s skin tone will change. They may become mottled. They may become more pale, more ashen, more waxen. They may become momentarily hotter, or colder. Their skin may feel much cooler to the touch. Your loved one may look much less like themselves.
Closer to death the breathing becomes laboured and the mucous thickens, which can create congestion in the airways or mouth. Breathing can become noisy, and a rattling noise is quite common. This is often referred to as the death rattle, and is an indication that the end of life is very near. Breathing will become erratic, until a breath is taken only every so often. Eventually breathing will cease. This can take some time. It is not painful for the dying person, but it may sound scary or distressing to friends and family who have not been with a dying person before.
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On a metaphysical level:
 As your loved one moves closer to dying they move in and out of a place where they can feel, see, hear and connect with souls who have already crossed over. This is a very comforting and reassuring space. I have heard some doctors and nurses pass this phenomena off as ‘hallucinations’, but as a psychic, I know this is not true. (More information on this, and on people with dementia and alzheimers here.)
Some people use the end of their life, over weeks or days, as a time of review. In their dreams, in their mind, in their inner journey they go back to people and places long since gone, to make sense of what has happened, or to make peace with what has gone before. While they are doing this they will seem to be sleeping most of the time, or rambling in their thoughts and words. Please support and love them as they journey. Don’t try to criticize, correct or judge them, or tell them that what they are experiencing isn’t real. For them it is, and it is an important and healing part of their journey.
The act of death itself is simply a shedding of the skin, and a return to another way of existing. The act of dying and the transition back to being ‘a soul’ is always, in the end, a joyful and love-filled one.
Metaphysically you can help by sending love and light to the dying person. Feel the love move from your heart to theirs. Surround them with white light, or whatever other colour feels good to you. You can also call upon God (or whatever you know that energy as), your loved one’s guides, angels and others who have already crossed over (such as family members or friends) – to come and support and guide your loved one for this final part of their journey. Tell them that it’s okay, and that they can go whenever they are ready. Remind them of the great love that is here on earth for them, and that will greet them where they are going next.
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What can you do to support your loved one?

Simply, just be with them. Hold their hand, sit in their space, touch them and let them feel you near them. You might want to stroke their hair, or press a cool, damp cloth to their forehead and arms. Moisten their mouth for them. Rearrange their pillows. You might want to massage some cream into their skin or brush their hair. 

Talk with them, even if you think they can’t hear you. They can. Please keep talking when it feels right –  even when someone is in their final hours and are non-responsive they hear you. Speak quietly and soothingly. No abrupt noises or movements, and keep the room lighting soft so that the person doesn’t startle.

It’s okay to cry and show emotion. It’s also very normal to laugh and to reminisce. There is often no need for words at all.

Do tell your loved one that you love them. Let them know you are there. Let them know you care.

If it feels right to talk, share some happy memories. Talk about things you have shared together over the years. Tell them about the things you learned from them. What have they passed on to you? Why are you a better person because of them? What can you acknowledge about them that you respect or admire?

Tell them about yourself. Share your life. If there are issues between you say what needs to be said with a spirit of forgiveness and kindness.

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Even when we have had a difficult relationship with someone it helps both people to be able to find something that you can share which helps the dying person to feel that their life had purpose and that somehow, in some small way they were loved, made a difference or were noticed in a positive way. We all need to know that we matter.

It’s also enough just to be in their space, just to sit with them, just to be by their side. Read a book, curl up beside them, it doesn’t matter what you do – it matters that you are there.

It’s okay to say goodbye. Whether yours will be a short visit, or a long period of support, saying goodbye is a soothing and healing thing to do, for both of you, no matter how hard that goodbye might be.

Let your loved one know that it’s okay for them to go. Reassure them. Sometimes they will linger, hanging on for you. I’ve seen many a person pass after their loved ones have left the room. It’s okay to let your loved one know that you are leaving the room. It might be what they need to finally let go.

Above all, ensure that your loved one is comfortable. There is no need for anyone to be in pain, and there are so many options to help you and your loved one manage this final transition so that dying and death are pain-free.

Make sure you look after yourself in all of this too. Take a break if you need one. Ask for help. Call on doctors, nurses and care-givers. Step away when it gets too much. Remember to eat, and to get enough sleep.

If you would like to use essential oils, I have found Young Living’s Peace and Calming soothing for everyone in the room. Place a drop on the back of the hands or the inside of the wrists of your loved one, and a drop on the chest or the back of the neck. A little on the edge of the ear is good too. If you don’t have this oil Lavender essential oil will do nicely.

If there is distress in your loved one (or yourself) use Lavender and Frankincense. Apply a drop of each of these at the wrists, temples, back of neck, throat, heart, and soles of feet.

Yes, you can use all three of these oils together.

Use these oils hourly, or follow your intuition. They can truly transform a situation, and help bring peace and comfort at what can be an emotional and difficult time for everyone in the room. I used this combination when my friend Angela passed over last year, and the difference they made – for Ange, for her loved ones, and for the nursing staff – was truly remarkable.

The combination of Lavender and Frankincense also helps the soul to let go.

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I truly believe that death is not the end of our being.  I know that love endures. I am looking forward to sharing more of what I know of this journey, and I’m sure you will find it comforting.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be talking about sitting with a person after they die, and what happens in these moments after death for the person who died. If you have any questions you’d like me to cover in this series, please contact me here on the blog or at cauldronsandcupcakes@gmail.com

Wherever you are, go in peace today, and know that you are in my thoughts, prayers and meditations. I’m wishing you well. I’m sending you love,

Nicole <3 xoxo

 

 

12 thoughts on “Supporting Your Loved One at the End Stage of Life

  1. I needed to read this today thank you, last Friday mum was sad all day she just knew that her mum would pass soon and she did at 4.42am Saturday morning today is the first Wednesday we have not been able to see nan in years. In the 6 years she was in the nursing home mum and I only missed the odd day here and there and mum spent most Wednesday for the last 15 years visiting her mum on that day.

  2. Thank you so much, Nicole. It’s a shame the west isn’t more in tune with death and dying. These blogs are so important. It’s wonderful to have such a gracious and gentle guide. You are the queen of hearts. Thank you. xoxoxo

  3. Thank you for this lovely post. I read ‘Crossing to Avalon’ by Jean Shinoda Bolen recently and one thing that touched my heart was when she talked of ‘women as midwives of the soul’ at the transition of death. That we should not be inhibited by the fear that we’re being inappropriate and stifle the urge to hold a dying person in our arms, to give them comfort and ease their way into the light. I wanted nothing more that to curl my body around my mom, to ease her way, for her to feel my heart beat with hers as she was passing but I held back. I held back again with a young woman who had just lost her grandpa .. Knowing what she needed from me was to be held and rocked. I did not hold back the next time … I sat with a lovely man who was my fathers best friend, held his hand, shared memories, brushed his hair and kissed his soft cheek. I feel deeply blessed to have shared those moments with him … A way to honor his life and also my dad. I will not ‘stifle the urge’ to be present and to be a comfort during ‘the transition back to being a soul’.
    Much love …

  4. This beautiful post brought back very emotional and special memories of being with my mum when she took her last breath three months ago. We sat with her for the day, holding her hand, stroking her hair, touching her and telling her how much she meant to us. It was a time I’ll never forget and that I treasure. I felt so honored blessed and privileged to be by her side after the life she gave us. Thank you for this beautiful post Nicole. xo

  5. Beautiful post Nicole, brought back memories of watching my dad pass away. Brought me to tears. Helped me to release things I needed to and to forgive those I need to, even if just in my heart.
    Thank you and lots of love, hope you are doing well 🙂

    Txx

  6. Thank you for this Nicole. I have lived it with my mother and after many days of total inconsciensness, she sang her favorite song, just for me and gave her last breath minutes later.

  7. Pingback: What Happens When We Die? | Cauldrons and Cupcakes

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