How To Deal With Death and Dying As You Age

How To Deal With Death and Dying As You Age

If a person is in a fatal car accident, they may die right away from an injury to vital organs. For example, when if the spine and skull are involved, damage to the brain can cause the person to lose consciousness, cut off blood supply to the body, and interrupt communication between the brain and vital organs.

When someone is dying from a terminal illness, the organ systems of the body will shut down more slowly. They gradually become less aware of what’s happening around them and may start sleeping more.

Related: 12 Signs You’re Experiencing Spiritual Death And Rebirth

A person who is dying may begin to eat and drink less or stop taking nourishment at all. The closer death is, the more shallow a person’s breathing becomes, sometimes making a distinct “rattling” sound. 

Whether it happens gradually or suddenly, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that clinical death occurs when all vital functions of the body (including brain activity, blood flow, and breathing) have stopped.

End-of-Life Care

Addressing physical pain and the discomfort of death will be a priority. Although it can be difficult to have conversations about end-of-life care, it’s important that you and your loved ones discuss preferences before the time comes. 

Interventions like hospice or palliative care are designed to alleviate pain and help someone who is dying be as comfortable as possible during the process. Medicine used to treat pain, induce relaxation and sleep, and treat anxiety are often given, in addition to non-pharmaceutical methods to meet these needs.

Which interventions are chosen, when they are started, and how long they are used will depend on the preferences expressed by the person who is dying, as well as the recommendations of the physicians overseeing their end-of-life care. 

If you’re caring for someone who is dying, your experience of the physical part of the process will likely depend on your senses: the things you see, hear, smell, and can touch.

For example, if you are gently washing your loved one’s face, you may notice that they appear very pale and their skin feels clammy. If you were to move your loved one to change their bedding, you might notice the bottom side of their body appears discolored, almost like bruising, from where blood is pooling. 

A person who is dying sometimes loses control of their bowels and urinary system, which can produce sights, smells, and sounds that you may find difficult to deal with. If the person is conscious when these accidents occur, the physical sensations will likely be uncomfortable or alarming to them. 

There are also other sights and smells associated with death that you may be experiencing for the first time. You should know that while these are a natural part of the dying process, it’s also normal for them to make you feel afraid, sad, and even repulsed.

If you are overwhelmed with providing physical care to a loved one who is dying, you may want to hire a compassionate and trained hospice care worker or private hospice nurse to assist your family.

Emotional Aspects

The way you feel about death, whether someone else’s or your own, is unique to you and informed by your experiences and beliefs. Ultimately, there are some common feelings that people experience in the process of death and dying.

The established stages of grief are often referenced, though they needn’t be strictly followed. You might want to think of them as a nonlinear guide or roadmap.

When someone has reached old age, there are many years of life to reflect on when contemplating death. The process takes time and, as life generally is, will be full of ups and downs. 

Related: 9 Truths Only Death Can Teach Us About Life

While people will not necessarily experience the stages of grief in the same order or intensity, there are specific emotions that tend to be associated with death and dying. 

Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are generally accepted to be the core emotional components of the grieving process. Some people experience these emotions in order, but it’s also possible for people to revisit stages or spend more time in one stage than another. 

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Mark Stibich, PhD FIDSA

Dr. Mark Stibich is a founder and Chief Scientific Officer for Xenex Healthcare Services, a company that uses a patented pulsed xenon disinfection system to make patient care areas safer by reducing the microbial contamination (from "superbugs" such as MRSA, VRE and C. diff.). Xenex has been featured in Forbes, CNN and other media outlets as well as in peer-reviewed scientific publications. Dr. Stibich specializes in creating efficient solutions for public health problems. He received his doctoral training from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and has been involved in multiple international research and intervention projects. He is an inventor on over 80 granted patents and a principal investigator on an NIH grant. Specialties: infection control, protocol design, UV disinfection, area disinfection, disinfection of public spaces, public health, business developmentView Author posts