Dealing With Death

4 Myths About How to Act When Someone's Dying
hands_held_hospital

People often adhere to a code of conduct about the end of life that's just not rooted in common sense or reality -- especially when it comes to how to talk to someone who's dying, in their final days or hours. Hospice nurse Maggie Callanan, who has attended more than 2,000 deaths, wrote her book Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life in order to take on these myths:

Myth: Don't cry in front of the dying.
They know you're sad. Having the courage to bare your emotions gives the dying person permission to be candid about his or her own feelings. Your tears are evidence of your love. And they can also be a relief to the person, telegraphing that you understand what's happening.

Myth: Keep the children away.
People often steer kids away from death so they'll remember the person in a good light and not be frightened. But most kids do well with simple explanations of what's happening; facts are usually less scary than their vivid imaginations. By cordoning off a child from a natural part of life, you also deprive the dying person of a beloved, comforting presence.

Myth: Don't talk about how you expect your life will change after the dying person has passed away.
It's not like they'll feel left out. You can be sure the dying person is thinking about your life after his or her death -- people are often deeply concerned about this. It's reassuring to hear that loved ones will look after one another.

Myth: If you don't deal with death well, it's OK to stay away.
Some people excuse themselves from visiting a dying person with phrases like, "I hate hospitals" or "I want to remember X the way she was." This is saying that your discomfort is more important than the dying person's final needs.

"You have a responsibility," Callanan says. "If someone has played a positive part in your life, that person deserves your attention as his or her life is ending. I've seen too many devastated people dying too sadly, waiting for someone who never came."
 


Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio


about 1 month ago, said...

In Feb. 2013 my Mom died at her home in Hospice care. I sat with her all through the night and held her hand and talked to her. She never said a word but about 15 minutes before she died I told her that it was alright to let her spirit go to God. She propped herself up on the bed and starred intently in the corner of the room. Then, she slowly laid her head back down on her pillow. There was a look of peace on her face. I am so very thankful that I was with her every minute for 5 days before she passed. I preached her funeral. We laughed and cried, but it was a celebration of her life. When I was cleaning out her house afterwards, I found where she had put pills that she had decided herself to not take anymore. This helped me to accept her death because I realized that she hastened her own death. She wanted to be with my Dad and heR other loved ones to whom she had bid a brief farewell during her lifetime. My advice to anyone who is facing the death of a loved one would be to go on the journey with them and then let them go. You won't regret doing so.


3 months ago, said...

Hi everyone , I have a friend who is 84 in stage 4 cancer ! Now Hospice comes on a reg basis ! He is doing great over all considering he is dying . The only thing I don t understand is this person who is dying is ignoring us . We have know this man over 20 years ! Why is he ignoring us ? He doesn t say a word unless he wants something ! Other then that nothing not a word from him. As a matter of fact when I like go from my bedroom out into the living room or kitchen this person then turns his head as though he doesn't even want to look at me or us ? I m very sad we will be losing our friend .. however he treats us like strangers ? Any idea on why this is anyone ?


10 months ago, said...

I think it's fine to make suggestions, but every family situation is different. In our family, our mother was quite abusive. She did not abuse our brother. He is very judgemental and angry with us for staying away. She treated us abismally all our lives and we have reason to think she would do anything but, even on her deathbed. She will soon be dead, but we live on. She could say something that will only create more pain. There is nothing she can say or do now that will make things better. We have had years and years of therapy to cope and come to terms with her and even with her illness. My brother has had none. I feel like he is projected his junk onto us and it's cruel. We all have to do what we believe is best for us, while we are living. Our mother has had 5 years of knowing she has a terminal illness. She has had 5 years to make amends. She has never shown an interest in that at all. She hasn't asked to see us no, either. My brother has told us we are (expletives) for not going. Sorry, but I'm not going to aleviate his misdirected anger and guilt. The time for him to step in and help bring us all together was long ago. So, again please be careful to not judge. What you think is best, may actually not be and may only cause more anguish.


almost 2 years ago, said...

What if someone doesn"t want anyone around them when they are dying?


over 2 years ago, said...

I am finding this information very helpful and direct. I've just agreed end to help run a church , Caregivers Support Group.


over 2 years ago, said...

Wow! I have actually thought all of those thoughts and hid my tears today at my loved ones hospice room today. I was afraid I would upset her. This Was very helpful.


over 3 years ago, said...

I was lucky too, in that dad, from whom we were long estranged and who abandoned us when we were young, then reappeared out west years later with a new family (!!) and I had a little dialogue about that. He told me how sorry he was that he was such a poor, neglectful parent. He praised my handling the family, since mom had to go out and work to support us in the decade he vanished. He reassured me of his love, and told me again how sorry he was. While there can still be resentment over favoritism, or some other issue, the healing process when a parent is old and failing frees you, in ways you cannot imagine. I spent long years using lots of energy being angry, and it really did blight so much of what I did - holding me back. So, letting it go, as best you can as YOUR circumstances dictate, can be wonderful. And also, I 'got my sister back' - because I had stayed away from many family functions out of anger. Everyone's end of life healing with a parent looks different, but they all can bring comfort to the people who remain, and a way to move forward with fresh energy, and faith!


over 3 years ago, said...

At the time our Mother was in a coma and couldn't speak there was no way we could be 100% sure that she was waiting to see the oldest daughter. We all knew that she was Moma's favorite being her first born. The middle sister did the most for her and I being the youngest caused the most grief because I wAs too young and they were too old when I was born. It seemed like she hung on though until the oldest got there. After she was there, our Mother seemed to be at peace and was ready to let got and be with her Maker. I was relieved that my oldest sister did go and see her one last time. Had she of come earlier to see her, perhaps our Mother would have died sooner. At least those were my feelings. I am glad that I had made peace with my Mother long before she had this stroke that finally ended up taking her. I had no regrets when she died and I think that was as good as it got for me.


over 3 years ago, said...

About staying away -- can friends or relatives who do talk with the dying person help with this, maybe by finding out who the patient would like to see, then calling that person? It seems like such a pity to be waiting for someone to come, when they might not even know you wanted them!


over 3 years ago, said...

One can always learn from an experienced person.


over 3 years ago, said...

I was raised in an older home with senior parents and I was around death frequently. I remember going to many funeral homes and services, therefore I feel I grew up not afraid to be around people who were dying or even death itself. I had always remembered hearing the hearing is the last to go. When my Mother was in Hospice, she was in a coma. She never had opened her eyes, but I felt that she knew we were there. I had been living with her in her home and had a Chihuahua dog that she adored. My middle sister asked if we could bring the dog to visit her. Of course that would be fine. We waited until evening and brought her. I placed Little Bit on her chest and my Mother opened her eyes just for a second and grabbed Little Bit's tail. Not hard, just a gentle touch. When it was time to go, my Mother did not want to let go of Little Bit. I told her Moma Little Bit can't stay here, but I can bring her back. She never opened her eyes again and the Hospice Nurse said she had given that to me as a gift. I believe my Mother waited until my oldest sister got there to see her before she died. She came at 4PM in the afternoon. My Mother had already been there 12 days and this was the first time she visited. At midnight Hospice called my work And told me the end was imminent. I was only 10 minutes away. They had been giving her a morphine drip. I went and sat on the bed with her and held her hand And talked to her just as if she was awake and had knowledge of what I was saying. I had already made peace with her long before Hospice as we didn't have the closest relationship. But I wanted her to know that it was ok, that she could leave us and we would all be alright. She had made most of her funeral arrangements prior, but there were a few details left for me to take care of and problems to resolve. I wanted her to know what I had done and what was going to happen. I just talked calmly to her. She was not on oxygen and at 1:07AM, she let out a tiny puff of air, her eyebrow raised and she was gone. Hospice is an amazing organization and I was very thankful to have them in our lives.


over 3 years ago, said...

When I wrote my review on YELP of New East Side Nursing Home here in NY I noted that, a few of Kitty's 'friends', once I informed them where she was, said things like ," Well, I prefer to remember her as she WAS.." (excuse me, people..Kitty is still alive as I write these words on a misty morning) My point is simple: When we visit someone who is failing, or has Alzheimer's, or is dying..we are in a way facing a possible future version of ourselves. I have said it before- not all of us may have the courage to do that. And I'll admit, for some, it is daunting. So the excuse some of our neighbors who 'thought the world of Kitty' will cop to: "I'd rather think of her as she used to be.." I don't agree, because that closes a kind of door before the actual time has arrived to do it - personally, I want to share in the experience of being with my 'Sancho'. Some day, as her AD continues to move toward end stage, she WILL pass from this world. I hope to be able to look back and say I was a friend, until that day..and beyond.


over 3 years ago, said...

I liked all the myths being busted, but especially number 4. People who don't visit or even do a phone call just for their own comfort are selfish and don't think beyond themselves. They need to understand that the dying person has needs that are more important than their's.


over 3 years ago, said...

I wish everyone would read this. I'm tired of hearing excuses to ignore the dying. I agree there is a responsibility there.


over 3 years ago, said...

Death can be a teacher for us - opening us to our own mortality, yes..but the other part of that is..we can cherish the life we have NOW. Make the best use of time. A family member of ours has just detoxed from a dreadful addiction. Her almost 'courting death" was inexplicable to the rest of us, for some time as we watched her. But one of the first comments we heard from her was, "I am so glad to still be alive, I won't waste another minute." Maybe that is also worth remembering. Death is sad, of course. No one is making light of the pain expressed by these comments. But living as well as we can for as long as we can should be important, too. With whatever brand of faith sustains us.