A number of things happen during the final stages of death. Here is what to expect:
Loss of Thirst and Appetite
As the body begins to shut down, the desire for food and water go away. Do not try to force liquids or food at this time. The ability to swallow is probably going away too, which means food and water can end up in the lungs and cause a great deal of distress.
The dying person will probably be breathing through the mouth, which dries out the lips and tissues. Keeping these hydrated is comforting. The best thing you can do is keep the mouth moist and clean with swabs and a special solution created for these circumstances.
The ability to control the bladder and the bowels goes away during the dying process. There are many products such as absorbent undergarments and bed protectors, which can be obtained from Hospice or the drug store. It’s essential to regularly change and turn the dying person. Just like anyone lying in bed for a long time, the muscles can become stiff and sore.
Changing linens, keeping the body clean and dry, and turning to a new position every couple of hours increases comfort.
As less oxygen reaches the brain, the dying person may become restless or agitated. This is called terminal delirium. Quiet reassurance, making certain they are not in pain, and providing medications to promote restfulness are options to discuss with the primary care provider or hospice nurse.
As death nears, the person dying will become more withdrawn and less responsive. This may happen days to hours before dying. It is as though they are half asleep, or their focus is turned inward. While there may be occasional moments when they wake up and speak coherently, they quickly fade back into a deeply quiet and unresponsive state.
People who are in this stage of dying can still hear. It is important to remember that the person who is dying is probably aware of the people around them, what is being said and done during the entire dying process. If there is something you want tell them, don’t hesitate. This is your chance to do so. This phase of dying can be emotionally healing for everyone involved.
Be gentle when you interact. Tell the dying person who you are, because they may not be able to see you clearly. Keep the environment as peaceful as possible. Although it is fine to cry, emotional outbursts may be stressful to the dying person, because they can’t do anything to help.
During the dying process, many people have visions. This may be of other places, people who have died before, or other beings such as angels. While everyone has different beliefs regarding death, it is important to know that this is a normal process of dying and should just be accepted as is.
Unusual or Gasping Breaths
Fluid can start to collect in the lungs and in the back of the throat. This causes a rattling or gurgling sound when breathing. There are some medications that can clear up the fluid to reduce the symptoms.
The most common breathing pattern near death is called Cheyne Stokes. This breathing pattern is marked by long periods of no breathing, followed by a deep respiration. The person may look as though they are uncomfortable, but there is usually no other agitation or restlessness at this point. It is the body’s natural breathing process during dying, and usually means that death is immanent.