It’s important to go through the cancer journey with a positive and hopeful attitude. Today, more cancer patients than ever are beating the disease and living productive lives for many years. However, we all know that there are times when the outcome is not what we had hoped. In such cases, it’s important for close family members and caregivers to understand the process of death and be prepared for it.
No doubt you’re facing your loved one’s death with heartache and sadness. But, you may be facing it with trepidation, too. If you’ve never experienced the actual process of a loved one dying, you may be fearful and unsure of what to expect. Our minds hold images and predispositions about the experience of death that may be difficult to shake. Learning more about a person’s last earthly days can help us get through this experience with more comfort and can help us actually experience the event, rather than shrinking away from it.
Fiona’s first experience with the end of a loved one’s life came when her mother passed away. “I can tell you with in absolute truth that it changed my feelings about death forever,” she said. “I spent the last five days of my mother’s life by her side, and I will be forever grateful that I had this opportunity. I now truly see death as a part of a cycle because I witnessed a peaceful and prepared transition by my mother”. If you’re preparing to experience a loved one’s death with them, there are some things you might want to know.
The body can take days to shut down. During this time, it’s difficult to know how long your loved one will be cognizant. But, during their times of awareness, they are likely to be at peace about dying and intently working on their transition. In many cases, they will have some “unfinished business” that they need to attend to. This may be as simple as saying goodbye to a number of people, or they may have “revelations” that they need to make to certain loved ones. They may wish to give away certain items. Don’t try to stop your loved one from having these conversations or even giving away possessions. Their passing is easier for them when they feel that they have “finished up”.
At some point, your loved one may lose contact with their current setting. They may talk to you about past times and they may fret out loud about things they worried over in the past. Reassure them, but don’t try to convince them that their musings are not real. Their mind is combing through their life. Let them relive it at their own pace.
Your loved one may also begin to spend time in the “afterlife”. This concept may fall outside of your realm of beliefs, but it is not uncommon to hear those near death talking to loved ones who have gone on before them. Regardless of your own beliefs about an afterlife, allow them these conversations without prejudice. If you can, take comfort that they are seeing those they have loved and may be looking forward to reuniting with them.
During this time of transition, your loved one will lose interest in the trappings of this life. They’re not likely to ask for food or drink. As their body shuts down, they will no longer feel hungry or thirsty. Forcing food and drink at this time may actually cause them discomfort, as their body will have more trouble with digestion as it begins to shut down.
Finally, your loved one may lose consciousness for some time before death occurs. This is normal, and you can rest assured that they are likely in no pain or discomfort. You can still feel free to talk to them and reassure them. Experts on death typically say that hearing is the last sense to fade away. They may feel your presence and your words even though they cannot respond.
Death will likely come very quietly. And, you may be surprised to find that you are more comfortable sitting with your loved one’s body than you expected. It’s ok to take some time before letting their body be transported away.
We’ve all had a loved one die – but not all of us have been a part of another’s final experiences. The prospect of being with a person when they die can be very frightening. However, it can also be a fitting end to a long relationship and a life experience that you will treasure years down the road.