What should I expect when caring for someone who is dying?
It is normal to feel unprepared for a friend or family member to die, even when you know the end of their life is approaching. It’s also common to feel stressed, scared and not know what to do or say.
You will see and experience changes in the person dying, both physical and emotional. Learning about these things can allow you to prepare and reduce fear and anxiety.
What dying is like
When a person nears the end of their life, they can change gradually. The person who is dying may be able to do their normal activities. Others need to spend more time taking it easy and staying at home.
Physical changes are a normal part of the dying process. The person might not be uncomfortable or in pain. Even so, the changes can be upsetting to see. The GP or palliative care team can help you provide physical, emotional, and practical support. If you’re caring for someone dying at home, they can provide help when you’re not sure what to do. It’s best to have a conversation early with the GP or palliative care team to plan what this will look like. For example, it might be a combination of phone calls and in-person visits, depending on the situation or time of day.
Providing practical support
Family and friends can do many things to help support someone at the end of life.
Do odd jobs and run errands.
Prepare meals or help with feeding.
Sort out the bills and other household or personal administration.
Assist with toileting, bathing and washing.
Help getting in and out of bed.
Record social media details.
Record the person’s cultural or individual requirements and inform their health care team.
Providing emotional support
Discussing death with someone who is dying can seem hard. If you think it will upset them, keep in mind that they may think the same about you. A chance to share thoughts and feelings can be valuable for them and you.
Help them make a legacy or document their life.
Listen to them.
Know that they (or you) might cry or get angry.
Offer to put them in touch with a spiritual care practitioner.
Treat them as normally as possible.
Avoid being overly optimistic about their condition.
Say sorry if you think you have said something wrong.
Let them know if you feel uncomfortable.
Just be there.
This information is general guidance and may not be applicable to your specific circumstances. For personal advice, please contact a medical or legal practitioner or a spiritual, cultural or community leader.
This content was written for people in Victoria, Australia. Laws and practices differ in other states, territories and countries.