This is a process writing where I describe the death process. Many people are not aware of the steps the body takes when ending life. I feel people should be aware of this transition.
In June of 2002, I watched my mother die. She was a victim of cancer and was under hospice care. It was an experience I will never forget. At the time, it was hard to understand what her body was going through, but I learned a lot during this process. I feel everyone should know about this in order to prepare for the time they may experience this for themselves. This is a natural process for the human body. Just like everything else in nature, the body has its own way to prepare for the end of life. What I will be discussing is the physical shut down of the body.
At the beginning of the end, there may be a sudden decline in health. This may be a result of some type of failure in the body. From this point, you may notice that the person has fewer interests in things they once loved and enjoyed. They may have more interests in getting their affairs in order or talking about their spiritual beliefs. The person may sleep more than usual. There may be times they seem very unresponsive but know that it is very important to communicate with them and touch them. Even though they may be unresponsive, they can hear you and feel you.
As the body shuts down, the body will have less of an appetite. Food, at this point, is less important. Don’t force them to eat; this is not what they want. Instead, offer something cold to drink or crushed ice. Generally, they will be very weak. Don’t be alarmed by this, you have to understand that if the body is not getting fuel then it operates less. This is part of the natural process. Toward the end of death, you may notice the person has a spurt of energy. That is normal but it often does not last long.
You will notice many changes in the skin during this process. It can be cold and clammy. At times the skin may turn blue or blotchy in color. During the last few days, the body’s pulse and blood pressure can make drastic changes. This may lead the person to be overcome by emotion by being very sad or possibly angry. Don’t take any of this personal. Just continue to be there for your loved one.
Amongst the first things to cease in the body is digestion and elimination. There may be a time where they eliminate more than usual then it will stop all together. As systems in the body begin to shut down, the person may have episodes of shakiness. Again, this is normal and you can help by holding your loved one close. Another thing to be aware of are the changes with the eyes. There may be times when the person appears to be staring off into space and their eyes may be glassy. At this point they may be experiencing hallucinations. If you notice the eyes to be glassy and fixed, normally death will occur in a few hours.
Please know this, among the last functions to cease in the body are the ability to feel and hear. No matter what other steps the body is going through to end life, you can still talk to your loved one and hold your loved one. They can hear and feel you, even if they don’t respond. The last process to cease is breathing. In the last stages of life, breathing will be far apart and more labored. You may even hear what is called “the death rattle”. As the body is able to deliver less oxygen to the body, organs will become further weaken and will stop functioning. This process will continue until the final breath is taken.
It was hard for me to watch my mother go through this process towards the end of her life. I remember the day she stopped swallowing and how alarmed I was. I had no idea that the body had steps it took to shut down the ability to live. When the hospice nurse arrived, she explained to me and my sisters what was happening and gave us a pamphlet about the dying process. This is a difficult thing to discuss, but you have to be mentally prepared yourself so that you can be there for your loved one.