6 Steps for Recognizing and Coping With Dying

The dying process is a period of time when the body begins to shut down and prepare for death. It's an important period of time for the dying person and their loved ones during which they can express their feelings and show their love. It's a time of preparation for the dying person and their loved ones who must get ready for the inevitable loss.

The actual process may be very quick or happen gradually. Recognizing the signs early and feeling confident in the care you provide can ensure this is a special time.


The Dying Process Is a Journey

Hospital visiting

The dying process usually begins much sooner than most people realize. Many people will mistake signs of dying for simple confusion or side effects of medication. Other signs of the dying process, like a decreased need for food and fluids, might be scary unless one really understands what's going on.

Recognizing early that the dying process has begun can help you prepare for what's ahead.


Interacting With the Dying Person

Being with a dying person can make many people uncomfortable. You might find yourself wondering what to say and what not to say. Your fears about death might surface making the experience seem more scary than special. Be assured that many people have these same struggles and you are not unusual in wondering what is the right way to be with a dying person.


Caring for a Dying Loved One

Perhaps the ultimate act of love is caring for a loved one while they are dying. It can be a beautiful experience, providing the opportunity to express your love when they need it the most.

The key is to feel confident in the care you are giving. Even if you have cared for babies and children, you may not have had experience in caring for a mature person who needs assistance with basic care. Seek out practical tips or training that can build your confidence.


Anticipatory Grief

One woman described waiting for her husband to die as waiting for a tsunami to hit. She knew the loss would be great and she would grieve terribly once he died. What she didn't realize is that the grieving had already begun.

Grieving probably started the day she heard her husband's diagnosis. It isn't a substitute for grieving after a death, but it does give you opportunities for closure.

Anticipatory grief begins before the actual loss and is an important time of preparation.


(Mis)Beliefs of Talking to a Dying Person

What do you say to the dying person? That question can cause you a lot of anxiety and may even be an excuse not to visit them. There are a number of things we think we should say to a dying loved one and even more things we believe that we shouldn't say.


Planning a Funeral

Many people find it helpful to plan the funeral well before the actual death occurs. Advance planning offers time and can often be done without extreme emotions. If the funeral planning is left to be done after death occurs, family members are often wrought with grief and find it difficult to think about the small details of the service.

By Angela Morrow, RN
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.