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Published on January 21, 2021

Caring for a dying loved one can be one of life’s most difficult challenges. The experience can be even more daunting to those who have never been exposed to similar experiences in the past, which frankly, is the case with most of us.

Once we can manage our own stress and sadness, we may come to see that caring for a loved one during their last moments is an immensely meaningful role. It can present the opportunity to bring elements of calm and peace into their life, while also creating positive memories. Providing this important support can also help us to better appreciate the many simple things that make life meaningful.

If you find yourself in this position, do not let your lack of preparation or experience prevent you from making a difficult task more bearable. There are tangible steps that you can take to provide comfort and ease the suffering of a dying loved one. And you don't need any technical skills or equipment to do so. Here are some simple and effective ways in which you can comfort a dying loved one:

 

1. Keep the environment calm, quiet, and pleasant

Many dying people are highly sensitive to loud noises, which can cause discomfort and irritation. So try to keep the television off, unless they request otherwise. This is particularly important when the program produces stress, such as news broadcasts. The same is true of the radio, although music may help, as discussed below. 

It is also important to keep conversations at a low level or request visitors to have conversations outside or in another room.

 

2. Maintain Silence 

As mentioned above, the senses of dying persons can be heightened and that may extend to their "inner self.” At this point, they may be focused on coming to terms with the inevitable and processing any unfinished business or thoughts they have.

As a caregiver, your job is to foster this internal monologue through your silent support - not your voice, unless sought. Simply sitting in silence close to the person and holding their hand may give them added strength and peace to confront or manage their inner thoughts and anxieties.

 

3. Speak Softly and Soothingly 

When it is necessary for you to speak, say you want to pass a message to them or answer their question. You should ideally do so in a low (but clear) and soft voice that won't disrupt the peace. Avoid using many words and keep conversations as short as possible (on your end, at least) and just let them focus on their thoughts. 

 

4. Use Dim Lights 

In reference to the first and second points, bright lights can also irritate the person's amplified sensitivities and hence, the need to turn off any white light bulbs, especially overhead lights, and instead use smaller lamps that provide softer illumination. Ideally, you should place the lamps in such a way that they won't directly beam on the person's face.

 

5. Moisten Their Mouth Frequently 

The dying process is basically when all body processes start to either slow down or break down completely. At this point, the body may not provide enough moisture, and the patient's mouth, lips, and throat can get severely dry. This can result in painfully chapped lips, a dry throat and mouth, and cause discomfort when swallowing anything. 

While you may not be able to do much to reverse this situation, you can give your loved one some added comfort by helping them moisten their mouth and lips periodically. If they are in a position to swallow, keep some water close by and let them have a sip every now and then. If they can't swallow, consider using sponge sticks dipped in water to hydrate their mouth and lips. 

 

6. Play Relaxing Music

Many dying patients find it easier to relax and calm their anxiety when listening to soft background music. It would be good to ascertain the type of music that your loved one likes, and play it at a low volume. Some popular apps, such as Pandora, allow stations that appeal to particular tastes to be chosen and that genre of music can play as long as desired. Note that some of these apps, when free, play ads that may be disruptive. You may have them option to opt out of ads for a small fee. 

Play music at a low volume and see how they react to the same. Of course, this won't work on every patient, as some tend to get agitated by any form of noise. But with most people, their preferred genre of music can evoke pleasant memories and warm the heart. 

 

7. Use Gentle Touch 

From time to time, the patient will request you to move or turn them around, whether to ease discomfort or just to keep their body in motion. While at it, be sure to first let them know (using soft, clear words) what you intend to do, and then proceed with firm, but gentle motions. 

Even when you are just sitting with them, occasionally reach out for their hand and offer it a gentle and encompassing massage to soothe their nerves and spirit. Of course, be on the lookout for any signs of discomfort or disapproval and respond accordingly.

 

8. Be Attentive to What They Want or Don’t Want

When speaking with your loved one, let them know that you are there to help them with anything. If there is anything that would make them more comfortable or anything they need done, ask them to tell you and let them know that you will try to take care of it. It may also be good to show initiative. Is the room cold, hot, humid, too bright, or noisy? Take steps to eliminate anything that can produce discomfort. Do anything you can to make the environment more pleasant. 

 

9. Technology Can Help

In today’s age, a cellphone or tablet computer can be a great tool in providing comfort. Loved ones and friends from near or far can record and send messages. Be discreet with the use of video conferencing apps since many people during this phase of life may not wish to be on camera. But they may find comfort in the loving expressions of others that can easily be recorded and shared. 

A cellphone or tablet can also be used to play scriptural passages for your loved one, which can also be uplifting. Of course, be guided by their preference. 

The fact that you are reading this article is evidence of your sincere interest in providing the best for your loved one. This interest and your love are the most important elements in caring for someone during their final moments and will go a long way toward making this very difficult time more bearable for you and your loved one.

Published on January 21, 2021