Courtesy of ABC Life | By Kellie Scott | Illustration by ABC Life/Unsplash | Originally Published 05.22.2019 | Posted 07.11.2019
When we published a story on how to sit with someone who is dying, we asked for your experiences.
Many of you took the time to remember and write, sharing your story in the hope it might help others.
You wrote about the importance of just being there, the hardest parts, and delivering your loved ones their favourite things for the final time.
Here is a curated collection of what it’s like to comfort someone who is dying.
Thank you to everyone who shared with us.
On just being there…
It is a true honour and privilege to be with a person as their life on Earth ends. Be brave and have the courage to say what you need to, say goodbye. Cry, laugh, be silent, pray, respect cultural beliefs. The most important thing is being there.
– Shelley, with her patients
I didn’t feel awkward being there as they took their last breath or sitting with them after they passed. I just felt it was one of the greatest gifts I could give them. To be there, give them comfort and show them how loved they were at the end of their life.
– Justine, with her grandfathers
Sitting with my mother when she died of cancer at age 62 and my father when he died at age 84 were rewarding experiences, as strange as that may sound. It brought comfort to them both to have someone they loved with them. They were both anxious about being alone and leaving family behind.
There was often little conversation. But just a touch of the hand, being there to pass a glass of water, serve spoonfuls of yoghurt, or chase up a cup of tea were all that was needed.
For me it was the last gift I could give them.
– Joanne, with her parents
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My advice to anyone who has the privilege to hang out with someone they love in their final moments is to just relax, take it all in, don’t try too hard, as it sort of comes naturally. And let the one who is transitioning from this life into the next set the pace and standard of care, if they at all can.
It’s a privilege to spend these last moments and I took it as such when my friend asked me to stay. I loved him very much, and not many days pass between thoughts of those last few days of his colourful life.
– Darren, with his friend
On not fearing death…
John died on our 12th wedding anniversary, at almost the same time we took our vows, holding my hand. His dignified and gentle departure from this world 26 years ago reassured me that we should not fear death, only perhaps the manner in which we die.
– Sheila, with her husband
The nursing staff had said I should bring in Mum’s favourite nightie and maybe her perfume, just to make her feel comfortable. She was unconscious and on huge doses of opiates, so I suspect the idea of her being in her favourite nightie and smelling nice was more for my benefit than hers.
I don’t know if she knew I was there. I wasn’t afraid to be in the presence of death. It was extremely peaceful and Mum slipped away without a struggle. I would even call it a good and beautiful death.
– Rioghnach, with her adoptive mum
On delivering their favourite things…
On a Saturday night, the nurses let us smuggle our dog in, so that Tiger could see where Dadda was — he was getting quite upset at me leaving at dawn and coming home at midnight. He was overjoyed to see Ray, even though he was unconscious, and was quite prepared to stay put on the bed at his feet.
– Annie, with her husband
We had funny moments. She suddenly decided one day that she wanted chocolate custard. That ended up being her last food. We syringed water into her mouth throughout the days until she refused that too. We were all there when she took her very last breath. It was incredibly sad, gut wrenching, heartbreaking and yet one of the most beautiful experiences. I was honoured to have shared that moment with her.
– Melinda, with her mum
It was close to Christmas when my dad died … so when we realised he wasn’t going home, we decorated his room with a tree, had a big bowl of lollies on the table, brought in a soft yellow lamp instead of the glaring bright white lights, and played his favourite music softly.
My mum, all four of us kids and our families came and went, and chatted and laughed. Dad always loved our banter and that’s what we did … he watched and smiled from his bed. When the time came, we held his hand and told him we loved him.
There were lots of tears, but I had some of the best conversations in those last few days with him. Lots of laughs and smiles.
– Deborah, with her dad
On savouring an embrace…
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I promised Phil that I wouldn’t leave him, and that he wouldn’t die alone. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t something that I was always able to do. I found that sometimes I could just be present, and sometimes I needed to do something.
One of the most precious gifts the palliative care team looking after him gave me was to tell me that I could get into bed with Phil and hold him. I have photos that I got one of the nurses to take of those very special moments.
– Mirella, with her husband
On the unexpected…
We sat in the room for six or seven hours, telling stories, reminiscing, holdings Dad’s hand and stroking his forehead. We laughed, and cried, but we were there.
His breathing was laboured, which was very difficult to watch, but the changes we were told to expect started to happen. We were all in the room and around the bed as his breathing became extremely shallow for a few minutes and he took his last breath.
It wasn’t pretty, but I am glad I was there. In an odd way, it also brought me closer to my siblings — an unexpected side-effect that would have pleased my dad immensely.
– Nerissa, with her father
I sat for nine hours with my late husband on his last day. He suffered death rattles throughout the whole time. Never having experienced a person facing their last hours, I found this an overwhelming time.
Only seconds before his last breath, he opened his eyes wide and I am sure he was aware of my presence. Alzheimer’s had consumed him for a few years. The hardest day in my life, but I am happy to know I was there and kept my promise to him.
– Patricia, with her husband
On the relief…
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It was very hot at the time and I remember washing her face to soothe her, applying moisturiser, combing her hair, just sitting and talking to her about what I had been doing. Sometimes she would smile, try to talk. Other times she was obviously someplace else.
The last day she lived it seemed that she laboured for a long time to take breaths, which became increasingly shallow and drawn out. Several times we thought that she had stopped breathing, but then she would take another breath. And we would be thrown back into that limbo time of just waiting, just being there for her.
It was a mercy when she took that last breath, because this wasn’t what she had wanted. She had wanted a quick and merciful death, not this dragged out torture. I only hope she was able to find peace at last.
– Jan, with her mother
It’s a memory etched in your mind forever. I vividly remember both parents dying. One was only 14 years ago while the other was 32 years ago, but the moments are still vivid to me. I think when the person has been suffering, it’s a relief to see that pain and suffering end.
– Veronica, with her parents
On what was hard…
It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I sat next to my mum as she was dying from pancreatic cancer. To see such a sharp, witty and strong woman reduced to a frail and confused shell of who she was once was is, quite frankly, heartbreaking. I will never ever forget the look on her face in her last hours.
– Sarah, with her mumThings I wish I knew about dyingThese are the things I wish I had known when my dad was dying. And some of them are things I intend to do now to prepare for my own death.Read more
I watched my ma slowly die for 10 days, and was with her when she took her last breath. It wasn’t a “pretty” death. I kept pleading with her to let go, but she kept on breathing. I felt very alone with the experience and felt relief when it was over. I so wanted her suffering to end. She went in the afternoon in the middle of a thunderstorm.
– Jen, with her mum
Upon reflection, I feel as if I actually sat with someone for 14 months while they were dying. The last couple of months were horrendous. It wasn’t even just seeing what the cancer itself was doing, but having the role of “organiser” in someone’s death.
By “organiser”, I mean it’s being the one who is gathering family and rallying friends for final goodbyes, and all the while trying to maintain that element of hope, positivity and at times sanity. That to me was all part of my sitting with someone who is dying experience.
– Carolyn, with her partner
You might also like to read
- What to expect when someone is dying
- How to sit with someone who is dying
- 5 tips for helping someone who is grieving
Posted 22 August 2018, updated 22 May 2019 Wellness, Community and Society, Death, Australia