One of my friends on Twitter posted about comforting a friend whose mother was dying. I was about to reply, but had so many thoughts I decided to do a quick blog post instead.
My first year of residency was a medicine intern year. I was present for several deaths, and spent a great deal of time talking with families as they said goodbye to their loved one.
I have a few pieces of guidance from my experience:
1. I always like to ask, “what did she love? What did she live for? What did she care about most?” This can be helpful to people when they’re shattered, to remember the love and the memories they have.
2. If you have a loved one who may pass soon, say goodbye and make your peace when they are relatively lucid and can have a conversation. After that, just spend time with them.
3. Do not pressure yourself to be present at every single minute of the day at your loved one’s bedside. You need to go home and sleep and shower and eat. If your loved one passes, it will not change the love you had for them or what you shared.
4. We often counsel family members to NOT be present at the very last moments of a person’s life. Loving and honoring your family member does not require you to be traumatized by seeing their death.
5. As much as possible, be patient with your family members. Many, many people will pick a fight when they’re overwhelmed and scared. If you can resist entering the argument or walk away, this is the best response.
6. If you live in a country like the US that has end of life care determined by “Do Not Resuscitate” orders, please make certain these are completed well in advance of any health crisis. If your loved one is already beyond the point of decision making capacity, this can make for an agonizing process for the family.
7. There is something beautiful about being with people in their last moments, and you’re doing a loving thing.