Dear Barbara, How do you answer a family member when they ask you how much longer their loved one has to live?
That is a question most family members want to know and one that there is not a concrete answer we can give. There are so many dynamics to dying that we just can’t be specific. We can guesstimate months, weeks, days or hours but really even that isn’t for sure.
So what do you say? “Nobody can say for sure but based on what I see, his not eating, sleeping all the time, and not being interested in what is going on around him, I would say we are talking months. That’s the closest I can get. Now is the time to be with him, visit, have conversations, enjoy him.”
Or “Nobody can say for sure but based on what I see, his sleeping with his eyes partially open, his picking at his clothes and random hand movements, his breathing changes, I would say we are talking weeks. That’s the closest I can get. Now is the time to sit with him. Sometimes he will know you, other times not. You being with him expresses more than words right now.”
Or “Nobody can say for sure but based on what I see, his blood pressure has dropped, his skin is discolored blue or dark (mottled) and he is not responding, I would say he has days to hours. That is the closest I can get. This is the time you want to stay with him, talk to him, tell him you love him even though he won’t respond to you.
Or “Watch how he is breathing like a fish breathes, he will be gone soon. Tell him you love him, tell him goodbye."
Something More... about Nobody Can Say For Sure When Death Can Happen
Our booklet GONE FROM MY SIGHT describes what happens in the months, weeks, days and hours before death. In addition to providing support and guidance the booklet is a simple reassuring and teaching tool to guide families through this challenging time. Gone From My Sight will give as close and accurate an answer to this question as can be provided.