My Loved One is Dying, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

As a hospice nurse I am frequently asked by family at the end of the day, “Should I stay or should I go?” or “Call me if anything changes.” When a person is imminent the only change is death. The hard part is that a person can be imminent for many hours or days. Time to consider whether you want to be there at the end.

I met one woman who had been unresponsive for over a week. Her son and grandson would come every day and sit at her bedside, and gradually developed a nice rapport with the nurses and aides at the hospice house. They were well aware of her imminence and what that meant, and they were at peace with her dying. As was his usual before going out to lunch, her son asked me how close I thought his mother was to death and whether I thought he should stay. That particular day her breathing had slowed to less than five breaths per minute and the periods of not breathing, called apnea, were beginning to grow longer. Her feet were discolored due to mottling as were her fingertips. I told him that in my opinion, it looked like his mother would die that day, whether in an hour or a couple hours, I was not sure. I told him, “If you want to be here when she dies, then I would stay, she is that close.” The son and grandson talked it over and then came back to the nurse’s station to let me know they were both running out to get a quick lunch, but to call them if anything changed. Within the hour his mother had died. I was unable to get a hold of him by phone, and was left to wait until he had come back from lunch to break the news. He was beside himself with grief and guilt that he had left. But the truth is he had been there for hours every day, holding his mother’s hand and expressing his love. His mother had known his presence. Perhaps when it just came down to it, he really did not want to be present when his mother died, and felt too guilty to acknowledge this, and perhaps, it may be just as likely that his mother chose to pass when he wasn’t there.

to see more on predicting when death is near read this…

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