Being with someone when they are dying is a profound experience – you are sharing a very intimate moment in that person’s life. Most people have no idea how they should act or what they should say at this moment. Don’t overthink it – instead lead with your heart and don’t be afraid to express your love.

You may feel overwhelmed by emotion, but don’t let this stop you from visiting them. Try to accept the reality of their death, and don’t try to fight it. Don’t be afraid to cry in front of someone who is dying, they already know you’re sad. It’s a sign of your love, and lets them know you understand what’s going to happen. Also, trying to hide your emotions is exhausting, and you will need all that energy to be present in the moment.

How to be around someone when they are dying

Spending time with someone with a terminal illness can be difficult as their appearance changes and they become less physically capable. Seeing someone you love in this altered state can be distressing, and it’s often why people are reluctant to bring children to see a loved one when they are dying. They might also want the child to remember the person when they were well, and are worried the child may find it frightening. However, talking to a child about death can help alleviate any fears they might have, and children can be a very warm and comforting presence.

Surroundings can also influence mood and emotion, and hospital settings can feel quite clinical. Create a peaceful and soothing atmosphere by playing their favourite music or reading from a novel or book of poems. Think about how you can create a more homely environment, by putting up photos or bringing in their favourite food.  You will need to check with nursing staff first, as some things may interfere with their treatment plan. If you are caring for them at home, you could light some candles or burn some incense. Think about what will put them most at ease.

If they are conscious and able to, this might be a good point to discuss their last wishes. If the person is religious, you might wish to arrange for your loved one to be visited by a member of the clergy:

  • For Christians, a priest may give the person their last rites, or pray for the person and their soul. Last rites are most commonly sought by Roman Catholics.
  • In Hinduism, last rites are referred to as ‘Antyesti’, meaning ‘last sacrifice’, and take place within a day of the person dying. The person is washed and wrapped in cloth.
  • Judaism encourages family to be constantly with the dying person. During this vigil, those dying are encouraged to share confessions as a rite of passage into the afterlife.
  • In Islam, the dying person should be positioned towards Mecca. Those in the room should recite the six kalimahs and encourage the dying person to do the same. People with the person should speak about mercy, blessings, and the forgiveness of Allah.

It’s important to respect their wishes, and decisions for care, even if you don’t agree. Listen to what they have to say and make notes.

The moment of death

People often worry about what to do at the moment of death, but there’s no specific way to be. People report different experiences – some people find it intensely spiritual, or find an immense sense of peace. Your experience will also be individual. You are free to feel any emotion, whether it be relief, grief, numbness… in that moment, nothing is expected of you.

Turn off your phone so you’re not distracted, and just focus on being with them. This is the best way to show your love. Strong physical contact can be painful, so just sit with them and gently hold their hand. Keep talking, right up to the end, even if they appear unconscious. They may still be able to hear you. Nursing staff may give you a moment alone with them, if you wish for it. When all is said and done, you will know you’ve done all you can in their last moments.

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