What happens when my loved one is close to Dying?

The final phase of the dying process is often referred to as ‘Active Dying’.  When the time is near for your loved one to depart this earth, it may help you to cope by understanding and knowing the signs of active dying. No two people are alike, and the signs of active dying may vary from person to person. As death approaches, it may help you to process this time by soothing and reassuring your loved one in a way that preserves their dignity and ensures their comfort.

Biological functions slow and stop during the active dying period. It’s important to know what to expect and how to recognize active dying. Knowing what to expect and what to do when a loved one is dying helps you to care for them better and may reduce anxiety.

Following are several signs that someone is nearing death:


A Week or More Before Death

Your loved one may have difficulty in consuming solids and liquids, so it is important that you give them a drink regularly to avoid dehydration, alternatively ice chips may be offered.

Try serving bland dishes like jellies and puddings in modest portions.  Aim for gradual eating and thorough chewing, and serve fluids between meals, not with.

Besides physiological changes, you should also expect behavioural signs. It is not unusual to hear loved ones say they are seeing departed family members during this time. They may also initiate ‘final’ discussions with you.  Never negate them, just listen and talk during these episodes, reliving memories and happier times.


A Week Before Death

Your loved ones may sleep for long periods and be unresponsive. They can be semi or fully awake and be in and out of consciousness. It’s a normal process, so let your loved one rest and just be with them.

Anxiety and hallucinations can occur as the brain’s oxygen supply diminishes. Reassure them quietly that you are right there with them.  It is said the hearing is the last sense to go, so keep family conversations on track, never argue with other family members and leave any discussions on arrangements for later.

Light a scented candle, play soothing music, offer a nice foot or hand massage, or perhaps read to them from a favourite book to help them relax.

As their body’s biological processes slow and food and drink consumption fall, so does the fluid output, therefore your loved one will urinate less frequently.


Two-Three Days Before Death

Mottling of the skin before death is common, as blood circulation declines, mottling is caused by the heart no longer being able to pump blood effectively. Because of this, blood pressure drops, causing the extremities to feel cool to the touch. The skin then starts to become discoloured.  You can help your loved one by covering them with a warm blanket and increasing the room temperature so that they stay comfortable.

Your loved one may likely be unresponsive to any stimulation and may also ignore spoken cues by this time. Be calm and patient, and just let them know you’re there.


One to Two Days Before Death

Your loved one’s breathing may become irregular or seem difficult, with pauses of up to 20 or 30 seconds between breaths. Also, breathing may become louder as they are no longer able to swallow or clear away secretions in their throat. These secretions gather in the throat, causing a gurgling noise. To assist them in breathing try raising the head of their bed and opening a window, using a humidifier, or using a fan to circulate air throughout the room.

It’s important that your loved one is in a stress-free and comfortable environment, and that they are under the care of a trusted Doctor who can monitor them and keep them pain free, with medication administered as needed.


When Death Occurs

When death is imminent, there is a brief pause in breathing and pulse.  It can be an overwhelming feeling of relief and perhaps even cathartic when your loved one passes.  That you were there for that most crucial moment in time can be healing and give you a sense of release.  Your loved one may even shed a tear after death, this was certainly the case for this writer’s mother at the time of death.

Your loved one may relax their jaw, their lips may be slightly open, and eyelids may be partially open with their eyes fixed in a look. In addition, they may discharge any residue in their bladder or rectum.



For some people, active death may last weeks; for others, it may last a few days or hours. Everyone’s journey and experience is unique. In this trying time, stay calm, and be aware of how you can best make your loved one’s passing as comfortable as possible in their final days or hours

Cherish these final moments you have with your loved one and try not to panic or lose control of your emotions. The essential thing is to let your loved one know that you are there for them.

Homestyle Aged Care offers holistic Residential Aged Care services in a compassionate, respectable, and caring environment for the residents. Contact our team today for more details.


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