Final Stages of Life: A ‘Good’ Primer on Dying

Most often, any piece will hedge their over view of the dying process with ‘remember, every person’s death is different’. Just like every birth is ‘different’ so is every death given the time to pass, the existing complicating illnesses and the unknown factor…that internal spark that glows, then stops.

As I have said, my mom’s hospice journey was in our home. We brought her home for ‘maybe a month, not much more’. She lived five months and for five months we watched her get better (even with terminal cancer she was living better than in the filth of her hoarding home’s dank basement).

In the end she slowly changed and then more quickly. Day by day and then hour by hour for weeks near the end we watched the process. Not so much clinically as one would a strangers; but, with controlled emotions as her fear was apparent and she knew we could see it. We didn’t talk to her about the dying process. No hospice nurse sat with her and gave her a heads up on the changes to come. The hospice nurses prepared us for the journey ahead and they were very accurate.

And, in the end, especially the final two days or so, my mom followed the pathway to death with some final heartfelt words of love (not easy for her, nor us); withdrawal and finally a twelve hour ride of physical/mental agitation (that Haldol & Morphine, which we administered, barely contained) that was difficult to watch. After hours of keeping her flailing contained and sitting by her, she passed in a series of diminishing gasps and then there was silence. 

Staring at her we studied and verified in our exhausted minds ‘is this real? really, she is dead? she is gone?’ Tears poured out. The dogs laid nearby sullen and out of the way (usually they are under foot). The silence was only broken by the tick of that damn clock. 

I pray my auntie goes calmer than my mom did. Right now, I need to go home and sleep.

Read the attached piece, because it is a pretty good over view: 

“Health professionals speak of “dying trajectories” that suggest how persons with specific diseases will die. For example, those with a terminal illness, such as advanced cancer, will show a steady decline toward death. Those with serious chronic illnesses may have peaks and valleys that sometimes give the impression of recovery.  Remember that each person’s death is unique.”

“Days or hours before death, the dying person becomes less and less responsive to voice and touch and may not awaken. Sometimes, quite unexpectedly, the person may appear well and even look as if he/she is going to recover. The person may be alert and talkative. This does not mean that there will be recovery; the person is still dying.”

“Restlessness and agitation are common. These symptoms may be caused by reduced oxygen to the brain, metabolic changes, dehydration, and pain medications. “Terminal delirium” is a condition that may be seen when the person is very close to death, marked by extreme restlessness and agitation. Although it may look distressing, this condition is not considered to be painful.” (more)

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2 thoughts on “Final Stages of Life: A ‘Good’ Primer on Dying

  1. annietiques

    This brings back a lot of memories………..mostly I remember being so tired, and the dogs who never left my father’s side.

    I used to take the dogs for a long walk late in the afternoon, and sit by the lagoon in a private spot to reflect and pull myself together. One afternoon, the day I knew the end was coming soon, I broke down in tears and the two dogs sat on either side of me, snug up against me until my tears subsided.

    I wish you strength for what is to come, Ann

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