December 12 2017
Written By
Barbara Karnes
Back To Blog

Telling A Loved One They're Dying

Telling A Loved One They're Dying


Barbara Karnes - December 16 2017

Hi Traci, the will to live is a powerful force. Having a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning is also vital. As we age we often lose our purpose. Either affects our quality of life as well as our quantity. Your mother has purpose even though it is tiring. I don’t have enough information on your dad to know about purpose although it sounds like he is done and ready to leave this earth.
What can you do to help? Ask. “Mom you have a huge job. How can I help? What can I do for the two of you?”
As you look around and assess their living conditions see if it is time to get additional help in the home. Contact Social Services or a case manager from the hospital. Inquire about Palliative care for your dad which would be able to plug them into some help in the home. While you are there ask about their Advanced Directives. How do they want to spend their last days?
Since you cannot be a constant presence make phone calls your connecting link. Establish regular, frequent telephone calls, at least weekly, if not more. The calls become your touch stone. They let them know they are not alone, that you are thinking of them even though you can’t physically be there and the calls are your source of information. Blessings to you and your family. Barbara

Barbara Karnes - December 16 2017

Hi Karen, You reminded me that each situation is different. What is right for one person may not be right for another. This is where listening to our heart, our gut instincts, come into play. We need to gather as much information as we can about a subject, take that knowledge inside, think about how it pertains to us and then make our decision. More than likely that will be the right decision. If it turns out to have not so good results take it as a learning experience for next time and move on. Thank you for sharing. My blessings to you and your mom. Barbara

Traci Eaton - December 16 2017

Thank you for your insightful and beautiful books. We will be eternally grateful to our hospital hospice unit for the gift of the little blue book when my mother-in-law was in their care, I have since bought the whole set for myself and my mother and sister. At present my father, who is 96, has been diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation so does not qualify for Hospice. He is clearly failing and has had chronic depression since his 30s so his interest in both living and the dying process is nil. He just wants to go and not have anyone bother him about it. My problem is that I live over a thousand miles away in the midwest, they live near Denver. I will be with them for about a week in late January on my way to my mental health and wellness respite in Arizona and then will stay with them again in late March, all else being equal, on my return trip home. How can I be the most help to my 92 year old mother, who is sole caregiver at present? I think she feels she has lost the death race with him and is once again shouldering all the burdens?

Anne Daigle,RN - December 16 2017

Good questions good answers.

Martha - December 16 2017

When my mother was nearing the end of her life, she told me “I am tired.”
I knew what this meant. She was ready to die.
So then I asked her, if you get pneumonia again would you want to go to the hospital, or stay home.
She said she would want to stay home, so that is what we did.
She did not develop pneumonia again, but we knew what she wanted and did that for her.
She also told me I don’t think your sister is ready for me to go yet, and I believe she was right,
but in a few weeks things changes as my sister saw our mother get weaker.
Then it was a peaceful death, we all were prepared and accepted it with peace.

Karen - December 15 2017

As others have already stated, I too valued reading your insights on whether to tell someone they are dying.
My mother is late stage dementia, but has good health, so she could be around for (many?) more years. No one has discussed her situation with her up until I did the other day. The reason I did was because she seemed more aware and in the moment than she had been in 18 months. While I was GENTLY updating her on what I had been taking care of for her, she asked me relevant questions! It was a relief to be frank with her. I do not expect her to retain this information and I may tell her again, and again. It’s just that she seems lost here and I thought my discussion could help her realize she has had a full life, family that loves her, and that it’s okay if she leaves us and joins other family members that have passed away.
My choice may not be right for others but I wanted to share what happened.

Barbara Karnes - December 15 2017

Hi Nancy, in response to your question of how should you handle talking with your mom about end of life issues: because she has late stage dementia I wouldn’t talk with her about hospice or end of life. I see no need to put her through the trauma. The reason I suggest talking about end of life is to give everyone the opportunity to do and say what they need to do and say. With dementia that possibility isn’t there. If she can even register the effects of your words she would soon forget and you are not accomplishing anything. I think actually causing harm. Best to just love her. Nothing can be accomplished in telling her. My blessings to you both. Barbara

kenneth d marlatt - December 15 2017

my wife of 60 yrs was dying and at first she said she was going to lick this, but as time went on she and I both knew it wasn’t to be. as she got weaker and tended to sleep more, we both knew time was running out. but we included her in everything we did. although she would not eat toward the end, we had her at the table and we all talked to her and she would smile once in awhile so we knew she knew what was going on. she was a close part of our lives right to the very end. although when the nurse said she had passed, I swear I could make out a faint smile on her face like she was happy to go to the lord. she had been in so much pain right to the bitter end, it must have been a relief that the pain was ending forever. god bless her soul as I know she is in good hands

Claudia Hauri - December 15 2017

Hi Barbara….once again you have responded accurately & with wisdom….what wonderful words to help families, people, spouses come to terms with reality & make amends, closure, forgiveness with love & grace, keeping the human spirit intact.

I only ask one change…..substitute the word medical for nursing. I am not a medical professional, I am a Nurse Practitioner, a profession with it’s own license, Board, CEU requirements, etc.
Until we separate ourselves (not part of room & board in hospitals) from medicine ( having our own diagnoses’ in a DCM we will never be recognized as independent practitioners. A letter to the Editor about my position was published in the September issue of the Journal for Nurse Practitioner/American Association of NPs.
Again, thank you for teaching so many of us.

Nancy Patrick - December 15 2017

My Mom has been placed on Hospice at her Memory Care facility. She is 88 and diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. She has late stage dementia and doesn’t understand that she is on Hospice. So far, she is doing pretty well but will not get better. Can you speak to how we should approach death issues with her in this situation or if we shouldn’t? Thanks.

Barbara Karnes - December 13 2017

Hi Frank, When a significant other is in denial you gently remind them, when the issue comes up, that the physician has said Dad can’t be fixed. No one knows how long someone has to live but they can know when a person will die from their disease. Often the “there will be a miracle” card is played and yes there could be a miracle but miracles are hard to come by. Try to concentrate on living in the present. Concentrate on making the best of each day, of living the gift of time that has been given. Gently guide the person in denial to see that it isn’t about saying or believing a person will get better or that a person can’t be fixed. It is about living life each day to the best you can.. Blessings! Barbara

Frank Seidel - December 13 2017

I so agree with you on this subject. I remember how relieved I felt when a minister said to my father, “you know you are dying” and my father answered “yes”. From that point approximately a few hours we became comfortable with each other. Unfortunately my mother couldn’t grasp the situation and kept talking about his getting better. This promotes the question, how do you cope with one that stays in denial?

Linda McGlynn - December 12 2017

This is very good advice. No one escapes death, but sometimes family & docs tend to give false hope. It was hard to tell my dad he was dying, but I did. I’m pretty sure he knew anyway, but I confirmed what he suspected. It gave us ALL the opportunity to say goodbye the way each one of us, including dad, wanted to.

Ginger - December 12 2017

Sometimes the patient knows before the caregiver. I think my mother knew she wasn’t going to get better before I realized it.

Page 1 of 2

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up