End of Life: What to Expect and How You Can Cope
Every person’s end-of-life will be unique, but understanding commonalities can help you navigate this difficult process.
Death is a natural and inevitable part of the human experience. Still, most people find it uncomfortable to think about or discuss. So they choose to avoid learning much about end-of-life care for themselves or loved ones. While it can be a difficult subject, educating yourself can also empower you. Also, this lessens feelings of uncertainty and fear that often accompany end-of-life matters.
Every person’s end-of-life will be unique and personal. Below, we will discuss some commonalities and practical considerations to help you navigate this difficult process.
Approaching the End of Life: What to Expect
Multiple factors will influence the dying experience for an individual. The timeline of the process may be swift or drawn out. For some, the transition will be more peaceful, bringing about immense challenges for others. Here are some things you might expect as death approaches:
Changes in Interactions with Others
It is common for a dying person to begin to withdraw from friends and loved ones or show no interest in the hobbies and activities they used to enjoy. Even if a person is still receiving social calls, they may exhibit anger or other strong emotions. This fact makes it challenging to interact or even provide needed care. Though they may want to repair damaged relationships, find closure, or say goodbye to loved ones, it may prove a difficult task.
Changes in Sensory Perception
Often, a dying person may experience psychological changes or sensory perception changes that lead to hearing or seeing things that don’t exist. Paranoia is common, as is an inability to follow a conversation or line of thought. They may appear agitated or exhibit other emotions unexpectedly.
Nearing Death Awareness
A phenomenon happens to some people when they are dying known as “nearing death awareness.” The dying person is aware that something is happening, that a transition is nearing, yet they cannot express it properly. It can manifest as the person talking about preparing for a trip or journey or sharing visions of beautiful places they see in their minds. On the other hand, it can appear as delirium and often leaves the dying individual feeling restless and unable to relax.
Practical Considerations for the End of Life
As death approaches, there are necessary tasks and daily life challenges that must be considered. Here are just a few of them:
Getting Affairs in Order
The end of life can be quite heavy on paperwork and planning. Many people take the opportunity to get their legal and financial affairs in order. They are writing or amending a will or creating an advanced care directive. It might also include pre-planning for their own funeral or memorial service.
Making Decisions About Visitors
It is entirely a matter of preference, but some dying people are anxious to see family and friends, while others prefer no visitors. In fact, it may be a decision that changes from day to day as death nears. Therefore, a dying person will often need a gatekeeper to help ensure their wishes are met in this regard.
When a loved one is dying, is it natural for family members to want to spend as much time with them as possible? Unfortunately, it often means putting normal life on hold, including work. You may constantly feel on high alert and expecting bad news. It is emotionally and physically draining, and it is important to ask for help when you need it. Explain your circumstances to friends and coworkers as best as you can. Seek assistance with everyday tasks like picking the kids up from school.
As Death Approaches
When the end of life is imminent, a dying individual is unlikely to eat or drink much. Their body requires less energy, so this is a natural part of the end-of-life journey. They may also begin to speak very little, even failing to respond to questions or greetings from others. They will also likely begin to sleep more often.
From a physical standpoint, the body gives some natural signs that the end is near. For example, there will be a drop in body temperature, a decrease in blood pressure, an irregular pulse. Skin color becomes grayish due to less blood circulation, perspiration may increase, and breathing will become slower or irregular.
Many experts believe that the sense of hearing is the last sense we lose before death. So sitting with your loved ones and talking to them during this time is a natural thing to do, if desired.
When Death Occurs
At some point, the dying person’s breathing will stop altogether, and they will no longer have a heartbeat. Once death occurs, the human body will begin a series of processes. Pupils dilate, muscles relax, skin grows paler, and chemical changes will lead to a temporary stiffening of the body, called rigor mortis.
Death is a multifaceted emotional experience. Many family members will feel a mixture of sadness that their loved one is gone and relief that they are no longer in any pain.
Navigating the Grief Journey
Grief often begins during the end-of-life process for family members and friends. It becomes more powerful and uncontrollable once death has occurred. It is a normal and necessary reaction to losing someone you love, yet every person’s grief journey will be unique.
You may cry, you may be angry. Or you may have trouble sleeping, or you may sleep more than usual. You may have no appetite, or you may binge eat. You may cling closely to your faith, or you may begin to question your religious beliefs. It is common to have trouble thinking clearly or to be able to concentrate on a task.
Although there are commonalities, every person’s end-of-life experience and grief journey will be different and deeply personal. As you navigate these challenging times, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.