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Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center Inc.

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Dealing with the Imminent Death of a Loved One - Caring for a Dying Person

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Providing care for a dying person can be very difficult and emotional, and yet also a rewarding experience.  There are many challenges that you are likely to face as you work to make the dying person comfortable and assist with any unfinished tasks that the dying person wishes to accomplish.

One of the most important things to remember is that you need to take care of yourself in addition to caring for the dying person.  This will be a stressful and trying time and if you aren't able to take care of yourself (getting enough rest, food, exercise, etc), you won't be able to provide quality care to your patient either.  You need to monitor your own emotions and seek outside or professional help if necessary, should you find yourself overcome by anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, depression, or other powerful feelings that may threaten to temporarily overwhelm you.  This also includes asking for help from other family members when this is needed and/or allowing others to help you when they offer.  If you try to do everything on your own, you will quickly burn-out and not be able to provide good care.

It is important to continue to communicate with the dying person about their condition as much as possible.  Allowing the person to have a say in how they are cared for whenever possible is an important gift you can provide them.  Doing so helps the dying person to maintain a sense of independence and dignity, particularly in the face of their ultimate loss of control over a medical disease or condition that will end their lives.  In addition to providing good physical care, it is also good to encourage the dying person to share his or her feelings, not only about physical symptoms, but also about emotional and spiritual concerns.  Let the dying person know you are available and there to support him or her.

You'll need to work closely with the other health care professionals and caregivers involved in the caregiving process (such as other family members, doctors, nurses, aides, and spiritual advisors) in order to help coordinate the flow of information to all concerned parties.  This communications task can include monitoring the dying person's level of physical comfort and emotional health, and letting others know when they need to become more involved.  Partnering with other caregivers helps you to become more educated about what to expect over the course of a disease and during the final days.  Asking lots of questions can help reduce some of the stress, anxiety and fear that you may be feeling about managing in the final days.

You can also help the dying person to finish any incomplete business he or she may have, including legal or financial matters, making reconciliations or amends, coordinating specific visitors, or even facilitating travel to special places.  Providing such aid can involve a great deal of coordination and handling of many details, but can go a long way in allowing the person to die a "good death."


Signs and Symptoms of Approaching Death

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