When Someone You Love Is Dying
Dealing with death and dying is incredibly difficult. When supporting a family member or friend through death, you want to be there for them. You want to be near. You want to help, and yet you may be totally drained.
All of these feelings and experiences are normal. There is no right or wrong way to deal with death, no right or wrong way to respond to another's pain. Though it may be painful, it's important to support a dying person. Be yourself. Listen. Spend time. Ask how you can help. And, most importantly, simply be there.
What You Can Do
- Be real. Acknowledge that the person is dying. Whether you are a friend, a co-worker, a sibling, a parent, or a spouse, offer your time, your good will, and yourself. Having a connection and simply being available will be helpful to the dying person and to you.
- Focus on the person rather than the illness. One of the worst things about dying is that family and friends often distance themselves, even when sitting in the same room. Talk with the person not at the person.
- Know that there may be times of joy and sadness. It's important to feel them both. Sharing these emotions helps you to connect with the person and may ease some of the pain.
- Know that it's normal for dying persons to ask tough questions. They may ask about life and death and what it means. You don't have to have all the answers. Being there to listen is what counts. Your health care team is also there to offer information and support.
- Support the dying person in whatever way makes sense. It may be listening, talking, helping with physical needs, or doing practical things for them at home. Offer help. Suggest ideas you have for helping out. Give the person a chance to choose how they would like you to help.
- Listen. Realize the person may need to discuss unfinished business. Say "Thank you" and "I love you".
What Can Be Done for YOU
Caring for a loved one who is dying is emotionally draining. To care for another person, you need to care for yourself. Your doctors and nurses, the nurse team leader on your unit, the social worker and nurse case manager involved in coordinating your care, and a chaplain are all part of a team to provide you the support you need during this difficult time.
You may also wish to talk with one of the following individuals or groups. If you would like, talk with your nurse about what may be best for you and your family.
- The Palliative Care and Symptom Management Service: A team of professionals that can help to manage symptoms and to support and counsel you regarding end of life options. The team includes a doctor, nurse, chaplains, a pharmacist, and a social worker.
- Nursing Communications Program: Advance practice nurses who can provide support and suggestions for coping with grief and loss. You can meet with them individually or as part of a grief support group.
Let us know how we can best meet your needs.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 11/08/2011
Copyright © 11/08/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5387
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