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  • Ann Hollander

When your relative is actively dying


In the last two weeks, as a loved one is nearing death, it is natural to want to be at their side. But then, what? Especially if you have never been in this situation before, you may feel uncertain—even awkward—about what to do. The ideal is to be a calm, reassuring, and loving presence focused on keeping your relative comfortable. Here are some tips.


Physical comfort

  • Offer ice chips or a wet washcloth to suck on to ease a dry mouth.

  • Put lip balm or olive oil on dry lips to avoid chapping.

  • Keep bed linens clean and dry.

  • Position them on their side, with head elevated to ease breathing.

  • Change their position ideally every two hours to reduce the chance of bedsores.

  • Keep blankets on hand for bouts of chill and a cool, damp cloth for flashes of heat.

  • Have a commode or bedpan nearby in case they need to go to the bathroom.

  • Provide food or drink only if they ask for it.

  • Give pain medicines as needed to remain pain free.

Emotional comfort

  • Hold their hand—they can still feel.

  • Tell them they are loved—they can still hear.

  • Thank them for their role in your life.

  • Gently offer or request forgiveness, as appropriate.

  • Let them know they can let go, that you will be sad, but you will also be alright.

Spiritual comfort

  • Engage in rituals of your loved one's faith.

  • Quietly sing songs or pray, as they would wish.

During the last few days, families tend to gather around the bedside as a group. It may be harder for your relative to let go when surrounded by loved ones. Consider instead taking turns so that one of you is present at all times. This allows each person their private goodbyes. Also a way your relative can be monitored for comfort while providing the stillness that's needed to pass on.

Is your loved one's life coming to a close?

Tender times indeed. As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, we at Options for Aging have walked this path many times with our clients. Let us support you. Give us a call at 847-868-1445.

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