When a loved one is in the process of dying, being there for them is an expression of your support and love.

I recently saw some helpful guidance for those sitting with a loved one who is dying. Called Deathbed Etiquette, it’s available at https://www.artofdyingwell.org 

It mentions many things that ring true about ‘being there’ from my own experiences, including;

  • Be attentive to what your loved one wants – you’re there to support them. It’s really important to listen to their wishes and if they’re no longer able to speak, they give messages in other ways. Facial expressions, noises and physical movements all give us feedback if we’re paying attention.
  • Holding your loved one’s hand is often more powerful than words. I sat holding my Dad’s hand in his final days. He squeezed my hand and I squeezed his in reply. This helped me to understand he knew I was with him, even though he couldn’t speak. This still remains a treasured memory, even though he died almost 12 years ago.
  • Sitting at the bedside can be exhausting so try to eat, drink and take regular breaks. If you’re reluctant to leave your loved one alone, having a rota of sitters can help. Each person needs to take care of themselves. Getting sleep is crucial to your own health and wellbeing. This is how we managed to care for my Mum-in-Law in her own home until she died.
  •  Don’t feel you have to sit in silence. I shared a precious couple of hours with a family reminiscing about their loved one’s life only hours before she died. I like to think she heard our conversation. We spoke very fondly of her and it was obvious how well loved she was.

Other things that I’ve found helpful are:

  • Gentle hand and foot massages
  • Spraying a favourite perfume or essential oil spray (ask permission if in a hospital, hospice or care home)
  • Reading from a well loved book or playing favourite music
  • If they’re still able to eat, giving them small tastes of their favourite food

However, if there is any sign from your loved one that they don’t like what you’re doing, stop immediately. Sometimes, all they want is silence and our presence. 

The guidance ends with a quote by Jean Varner. “Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness”.  It is as simple as this.