2011-06-02 / Worship

How do you know when the end of life is near?


The scariest moment for families, especially if the family is the care giver for a loved one, is the moment of death. We do not know what to expect and there are always a few surprises. I hope with this column you will be able to recognize some of the signs that death is approaching.

The first thing to look for is what most people consider a cruel joke of the human body. A person will normally have a surge of energy that makes the care givers think that their loved one is getting better, just before they die. Prior to death, most people will sleep a great deal, as in 20-22 hours a day. He or she will also likely be confused, and then suddenly become bright and alert. This surge of energy and wakefulness is a precursor to death.

There are several physical symptoms that precede death and they normally all happen within a short period of time. The human body does go through an orderly process of shutting down before death. Normally a person’s hands and feet become cool to the touch as the heart starts to slow down its pumping. This slowing down of the heart will also cause the person’s skin color to become bluish, especially their fingernails and toenails.

Breathing becomes labored and sounds like a train. It also may sound like they have a chest cold. This is normal, and the rhythm also slows down. This can normally be stopped by putting liquid morphine under the person’s tongue. At this point do not worry about any long term effects because what you are doing is making your loved one comfortable as they die. Normally a person is asleep during this phase so they do not even know it is happening and it does not cause them any pain.

Another symptom is that urine output decreases as the kidneys shut down. Normally a person stops eating and drinking so this is to be expected. When a person is getting ready to die, they have no appetite and do not want anything to drink. If this is happening, do not force them to eat or drink as this will lead to a painful death.

The other symptom of approaching death is that the person’s body temperature rises. Cool compresses being applied will make you, as the care giver, feel better but in all honesty, if your loved one is asleep, he or she will not know the difference.

This column may have sounded a bit cold but it is meant to be informative and help you prepare for the inevitable. If you would like to talk about your experience and the actions you took, please give me a call.

(If you have any questions about this article or about resources in the local community you can contact the author, Rev. Glen Kohlhagen, at the Washington Presbyterian Church at 706-678-7511. Rev. Kohlhagen facilitates a bereavement group sponsored by Wills Memorial Hospital on the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. in the hospital library/conference room.)

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