Addressing physical pain and 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 it 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.8
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.
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.9
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.
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.10
The initial stage of grief is considered denial, wherein a person struggles or refuses to comprehend that your loved one is dying. They may go to great lengths to ignore the reality of the situation or even discuss it with their loved ones or doctors. The denial phase of grief is often an immediate reaction, and a person begins to move through it once they have had time to process the information.
When a person reaches the anger stage, they may experience and express these feelings inwardly, outwardly, or both. They may be angry because they feel they aren’t ready to die or that they don’t “deserve” it.
They may process these angry feelings inwardly and prefer to avoid interacting with others. A person may also take their anger out on the people around them including friends, family, and even doctors and nurses.
Eventually, most people move into a stage of bargaining. If they are religious, a person may ask their higher power to save their life. They may pray and promise “to be good” or “better” if only God will spare them.
Conversations with others during the bargaining stage of grief may feature a lot of statements that start with “If only…” These comments may be directed at what a person wishes they could undo about the past (“If only I hadn’t started smoking…”) or focus on the things they are realizing they will miss out on (“If only I could live to see my grandchildren grow up…”).