Death and dying are a part of human life. But those who provide care just see it more often. As a family caregiver, you may have a loved one who is sick or disabled. Or you might be a caregiver in a facility or hospice setting taking care of older people and very ill patients. Whatever the setting, caregivers are faced with the possibility of someone dying in their care, and that feeling is just horrible. You feel a knot in your stomach, and pain in your heart.
When a caregiver is faced with the reality of a loss of a loved one, it is one of the hardest moments of one’s life. Grief does not even start when the person has passed. It could well be experienced at the discovery of a terminal illness. It could cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of control for both the patient and the caregiver.
How can the caregiver continue to provide care and say good-bye at the same time?
1. ACCEPT THAT DEATH WILL HAPPEN. Unless the caregiver admits to themselves that the death of the patient is near, they would not be able to prepare themselves fully for what is about to happen. Knowing that the patient may go at any time will also help the caregiver realize their own feelings.
2. ACKNOWLEDGE LOSSES AS THEY COME. During the final days of the patient’s life, the caregiver may notice that the patient's health condition will become poorer by the day. The confusion, inability to eat, loss of bodily functions, the increased sleepiness, and difficulty breathing are common during their final hours. It is the caregiver’s responsibility to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
3. CONVEY YOUR PRESENCE. Just being there beside a dying patient could mean so much to them. It makes them feel that they are not alone and that somebody is always there ready to help.
4. COMMUNICATE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. If you are a family caregiver, reminisce about the good days. This will give the patient a sense that they lived a good life and that they have achieved many great things. It’s okay to talk about death. Openness to the idea of dying helps the patient prepare and decide on the details of their remaining life.
Invite conversations about fear, pain, or any unsaid feelings. If you are a family caregiver, it is the best time to revolve your bonding moments around the words, “I love you,” “I forgive you," and "Thank you." These words should not have to wait until the last minute because truly, no one knows the exact time that a person will die.
If the patient is in a coma, you may still speak with them, and encourage others to do so as well. Hearing is the last sense that will disappear in a dying patient.
5. RESPECT THE DYING PATIENT’S WISHES. As a person feels that their time to pass is near, they want to leave knowing that all their concerns are taken care of. It is a great way to say goodbye, helping the patient fulfill everything that they want to accomplish to leave a memorable legacy behind.
6. ACCEPT AND EXPRESS THE FEELING THAT GOES WITH GRIEF. It is hard to have bottled up emotions because unexpressed feelings will have physical and mental effects. Look for support groups and religious counseling if they would offer comfort.
Saying goodbye is never easy. If you feel depressed, remember that it is perfectly normal to have these feelings. Sadness is part of the grief. It only means that you have the compassion to feel the loss that will happen soon.
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