How do you truthfully answer the question, "Am I dying?"

6 answers | Last updated: Oct 13, 2016
Jesshelper asked...

My grandmother is in the last stages of breast cancer. I go everyday to change her bandage and make sure she has everything she needs. She keep saying she thinks she's dying. Than she asks me if I think she is. I know she doesn't have to much longer left but I don't really know how to answer her question and comfort her at the same time

Expert Answers

Audrey Wuerl, RN, BSN, PHN, is education coordinator for Hospice of San Joaquin in California. She is also a geriatric trainer for the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), which promotes education in geriatric nursing and end-of-life care.

It is always hard to answer difficult questions, especially ones like your grandmother is asking. You have not given too much information regarding whether she is confused, has dementia, or has other disease processes going on. But, the fact that you are giving her care and "being there" for her is very admirable.

Now would be the time to talk with her primary care physician about hospice care. Hospice can help with her overall care, such as dressing changes, medications for pain or other distressing symptoms, and help support her and you through this difficult time. Don't try to do all this alone. Often times, families wait too long before asking for help. No doubt your grandmother realizes something very serious is going on with her body, even if she doesn't know its breast cancer.

When she asks if she is dying or doesn't have much time left, be as truthful as you feel you can. By not saying anything, is in fact, saying something. People with life-limiting illnesses should be treated with honesty and with respect. Please know that what you are doing for her now, by being with her, is providing a great deal of comfort!

Community Answers

Emoji answered...

My mother was 95 (four weeks short of 96) when she passed away in December of 2010. At night when I put her to bed, she was often despondent saying "I don't want to die." At those times, I sat down on the bed beside her with my arm around her and tried to let her know we are all dying. We begin dying the day we're born. It comes to us all, some sooner than others. We just have to live each day the best we can and expect to have an even more glorious life after death. My mother was a pragmatist so sugar coating facts would never have worked with her. I believe she appreciated my response.

Frena answered...

most people do know when they're dying, especially in the last stages of a long illness. the fact that she tells you she thinks she's dying tells you she already knows. instead of being frightened to be honest, be honest, the dying are usually loneliest of all when no-one will approach the truth with them. don't worry -- you can't kill a dying person by admitting they might be dying. it's no shock to them.

since your grandmother is clearly not afraid to admit it, why not start from there by responding with your own feelings about what's happening. when she says she's dying, it might be a good place to start talking about what is clearly your own fears and reluctance here. and it could be a wonderful place to bring in hospice. just say, if she's feeling that way, you'd like to have help that really understands what she's going through. then you'll stop being afraid to talk about this -- i promise you.

lay your hand in the hand of experts at dying comofrtably and talking about death with ease. because it isn't the death you don't want to talk about, but the loss of love. and going through the process with wise guidance helps you see and feel and understand that love really is eternal and transcending. and i'm thinking that's the thing you don't know yet. (im not even talking religions epecific here) i'm talking abut the fact that the love we've had from people help us cope with their dying.

so when we get honest about the dying bit, it allows a whole lot of important communication about the feeling bit. good luck, my dear.

Hansine answered...

I recently read "The Needs of the Dying: A Guide for Bringing Hope Comfort and Love to Life's Final Chapter" by David Kessler. It is a tremendously helpful book, well written and includes all aspects of the dying person's needs, from psychological to physical. One of the excellent chapters is about exactly what you ask, how to respect the person dying while talking as honestly as possible about death's imminence. It is a kind, extraordinarily helpful book.

Areensee answered...

I absolutely agree that it is time for hospice. In fact, hospice should not be seen as a death sentence, but rather a way to live what life is left, to the fullest! The earlier a patient with a terminal illness is admitted to hospice service, the better the quality of life that can be expected. Hospice services are provided by a team of specially trained and qualified professionals, who can help with questions such as "am I dying". Don't just expect the doctor to do this. Often, the doctor isn't any better at saying these things than is a family member. Certainly the doctor needs to confirm the terminal nature of a illness, but often times the question "am I dying" can be better answered with help from a hospice chaplain, social worker, or nurse. One other point--if the patient is asking, the patient already knows the answer. Don't be so afraid of addressing the reality of dying. What is important is that you continue to support your loved ones living in the here and now! Knowing that death is imminent doesn't have to stop one from living now. In fact, it can a relief to finally verbalize what one has been thinking and holding inside for some time. Again, consult the experts--hospice! We CAN help! (JH Hospice RN)

Ababykitty answered...

Although I had recently had to tell my mom she has cancer, I can tell you this: Hospice was THE best thing I ever did!!