Knowledge and Compassion Enhance Loved Ones Understanding of the Dying Experience 

In our western culture, experience with death and dying is often foreign to families. Once as commonplace as birth and new life, today the dying process is less personal and frequently distant from many, an event that tends to occur in the hospital or nursing home. However, there are many resources available to support and journey with families facing the loss of a loved one and make this experience not only tolerable but memorable and even healing.

Death and dying are often topics that many wish to avoid but doing so can serve to limit options, promote misunderstanding and fear and reduce the opportunities the dying person and the family may have readily available but are completely unaware of their existence.

Many people have heard of hospice care but they may have had a limited exposure to what hospice care really is. For many it is often a last minute decision when a family is told ‘there is nothing more we can do’ and a consultation is made to hospice who are involved for a few days and the loved one passes. Ideally, hospice care is considered well in advance of the person’s imminent death which provides the opportunity for preparation, learning and a number of support services for the dying person and their family.

Working with a team of providers who specialize in providing end of life hands-on care and hospice care provides those family and friends caring for the dying person with key information, care techniques and understanding of the dying process. Registered Nurses are able to guide the family in understanding the changes in condition they are seeing, why certain symptoms occur and how to bring comfort and relief of those symptoms. Often the family has been with the person through a long and chronic condition and may not see the key changes an experienced end of life or hospice nurse notes, and the changes that suggest death is approaching. Preparing the family to expect changes and alleviating their fear and anxiety witnessing changes can bring them peace of mind and comfort. Helping them know when death is close provides them the opportunity to call in family and friends to be present at such a personal and meaningful time.

Home Health Aides and Certified Nursing Assistants trained in end of life care are invaluable in assisting the dying person with daily personal care needs, mobility assistance, techniques and methods to use common household items to promote more comfort, make a shower easier on everyone, rearrange a bedroom for easier care and visiting, and so on.

Utilizing volunteers who stay with the dying person so family members can rest and connect with others eases the caregiver’s burden and provide for a lower risk of being completely overwhelmed. Pastoral care with chaplain visits provides the dying person and their family members the opportunity to understand the many feelings and questions they have as the end of life approaches. Social Workers provide guidance in making final plans and assuring family members are aware of long-term grief support and access to needed resources.

Traveling the road toward death is an honor and a responsibility for professionals who specialize in end of life care. It is an opportunity to bring families together to share stories and memories, heal hearts and seal friendships, demonstrate compassion and usher a loved one from this world to the next.