End of Life Tips

1. Pain Management: Work with the medical staff to assure that your loved one has all the pain medication and muscle relaxant they need to be comfortable. Signs that indicate physical discomfort or pain include: shifting around in their bed, trying to get comfortable, scrunching their faces up into a grimace, or spasming limbs.

2. Physical Comfort – the mouth: When a person is in the final stages of dying and they are un- or semi-conscious, they often breath exclusively through their mouth. The mouth dries out quickly and is physically uncomfortable. It helps to swab the mouth and gums once or twice an hour with a glycerin swab to keep the mouth moist. You can also apply a lip balm on their lips so the lips don’t dry and crack.

3. Cleansing the Body While Sitting Vigil: Gently wash the face, neck, arms, hands, feet, and legs of the dying person with a lukewarm damp cloth if they are feverish, or a warm damp cloth if they are cold. After cleansing, apply oil or a light moisturizer to their face, hands, arms, legs and feet. This keeps their skin feeling clean and soft, and gives them the gift of touch through massage of hands and feet. This also helps them feel physically cared for in the process of their death.

4. Peaceful Environment: Keep the room quiet. Lower the lighting if you can and ask people to speak softly. No loud noises, no harsh lights, and no harsh words in the room. Limit the number of people in the room at one time, as numbers of people can get overwhelming for everyone involved.

5. Time Out: Let the person who is dying have time alone. This may be hard to do because you want to be with them constantly, but they need time and space alone to transition. Please take short breaks from the death bed vigil. You’ll need those breaks to help you sustain yourself through the vigil. You could take a walk outside and get fresh air, take a shower to help wake up, change clothes, talk with a friend, eat a healthy meal, go for a short run or workout, or meditate or pray in a quiet space.

6. Fresh Air: Fresh air helps everyone at the death bed because death often comes with odors that are not pleasant and closed rooms get stale. If you can, open a window, at least a little bit, to let in air. Set up a small fan to move air around. Keep the air in the room as fresh as possible.

7. Talk to Them: Keep talking to the person who is dying, even if they are in coma, or read to them. Speak from the heart, from a place of compassion, or forgiveness, but don’t speak from anger. This is not the time for to bring up hurts or past wrongs. It won’t help them and it won’t help you (trust me).

8. Sometimes the Dying See Dead People: People who are dying often say they can see deceased friends or relatives standing or sitting in their room. Or they’ll tell you that they’ve just had a long visit with someone who is deceased. If you hear this kind of statement, please don’t argue with them or tell them that person is dead and isn’t in the room. Rather, consider reassuring them that those loved ones are there for them, to help them move on. This is a source of great comfort for dying folks, and – hey – it may even be true!

9. Music: If you play music while sitting vigil, please do so quietly with no one talking over the music, and play it only intermittently. If you’re lucky, you’ll have access to live music like Helen Lauritzen’s amazing Threshold Choir. If using canned or recorded music, however, please do not put the speakers right at the head/ears of the person who is dying. The person who is dying needs a quiet space, a tranquil space, to transition from their body – not a party with music playing and people talking over the music. Unless, of course, they’ve asked for such a party. Then by all means, grant their wish!

10. Skype or Facetime: Video calling services offer an amazing tool to use if close relatives or friends cannot get to the death bed of someone they love. Technology can bring everyone together to sit vigil and be included, regardless of their current location. Please note: Some hospitals and nursing homes do not have internet access in individual patient rooms. If you hope to use a video calling service, please make sure you know how to use the “hotspot” on your mobile device. I can help you with this in advance if you need help.

1 hour  /   $150