Nearing the End of Life’s Journey: Understanding the Dying Process

By Michelle 

When someone you love is dying, it can be a very scary time. Along with the sadness of facing the loss, you may feel everything is out of your control, especially if you don’t understand the dying process. I believe by educating families and caregivers, it enables them to “take back” some control. If you know what to expect during the dying process, it doesn’t have to be so scary.

I was with my mom and dad when the doctor told my dad there were no further treatment options for him. He reassured my dad that he had fought the disease with every option there was, and commended him on that fight. He told my dad he wasn’t giving up, and it was time to bring in additional support for both him and my mom. This was hard to hear, but my dad’s doctor gave us the gift of honesty. He gave us the gift of time—time to prepare, time to have family travel home to spend time together—and time to educate ourselves.

My dad and mom had a wonderful team of hospice staff, which provided them with lots of information. My mom read everything the staff brought. Even though I have worked for hospice for more than 12 years, I didn’t have to take on the burden of educating my family—my dad’s hospice team did that—allowing me be a daughter, and not my dad’s nurse. My mom was terrified of what was going to happen. Like most hospice family members, she had never taken care of someone who was dying. The material my mom read empowered her. She was educating family and friends who stopped by as my dad was dying. When we asked her questions, she was able to answer with confidence knowing the hospice staff had prepared her.

When I have taken care of people going through the dying process, I feel the most important thing I can offer is education. Everyone wants to know what to expect, how long it will take, and if his or her loved one is comfortable. I tell families that the dying process is unique for everyone. We are all individuals with different life experiences that have molded us into the people we are. Our personalities play a part in our dying process.

Hospice has wonderful resources describing the dying process, starting at three to six months prior to death and going through each step until death. Because we are all unique, the information is only a general guideline. For some patients, the dying process may go much faster than it will for the next patient.

The hospice staff members are the experts, and when my dad was dying, I wanted the best for him. Having this team on our side gave my family the education and support to know that when he passed, dad’s death was peaceful, dignified and pain-free.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, non-profit hospice serving more than 30 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email or visit


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