“Caring for the Dying Patient at Home,” by Traci Mullins

Jul 13th, 2022 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

For the purposes of this brochure, the “she” or “her” pronoun is used to avoid the annoying “he/she” combination of gender identification.

Prepare your home. Move all the furniture out of a spare room and order a hospital bed. Remove unnecessary décor, as making the surroundings too “homey” can lead to denial (in both patient and family members) about the fact that your loved one is dying. Keeping things sparse will discourage any push-pull between the players, a source of stress that can be avoided if everyone is on the same page. Especially be sure to remove all photos of your loved one’s loved ones.* This is not the time to surround her with reminders of what she is leaving behind, as this will only make her transition more difficult.

*You may want to consider leaving photos of dead loved ones by her bedside. This will give her something to look forward to, as there is nothing else at this point.

Don’t avoid the elephant in the living room. Conversely, dedicate a specific time each day to discussing the facts with your loved one so there can be no false hope. There should be no sugar-coating this. Research end-of-life symptoms and explain all the ways in which everything will get worse for her, e.g., pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, seeing dead people, etc. If this troubles her greatly—and particularly if she asks, “Why me?”—make liberal use of the next tip.

Quote the Bible. Her religion or lack thereof is irrelevant at this time. Reading Scripture to a dying person has been statistically proven to squelch self-pity and strengthen resignation. A particularly helpful passage reminds us that all things work together for good; thus, her death must be God’s will, and this should brook no argument. Platitudes are useful as well, e.g., “Death is a part of life.” “None of us gets out of here alive.” Discourage prayers for healing because it is clearly too late and—once again—false hope serves no one.

Read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Explain that while denial is part of the grief process, she needs to move through all five stages as quickly as possible so she does not die while stuck in anger or bargaining. Depression is understandable, but remind her that it is a useless emotion because it will not change anything. Stoicism is particularly useful while dying, and it is a kindness to others.

Feed your loved one. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. The hospice people will tell you that as she declines, so will her appetite. They will say that this is the body’s natural defense against overloading the tissues with nutrients that can no longer be absorbed. The true purpose of this “professional” guidance is to accelerate the dying process via starvation so that these folks can move on to the next patient, thus increasing their agency’s census and profit. Don’t fall for this, as starving your loved one to death will weigh on your conscience, only complicating your own grief process.

Share your feelings. This is not all about her. Now is the time to unburden yourself, especially as it relates to any unresolved resentments you have toward her. She has one last chance to ask for your forgiveness, beg for it if necessary. You should also consider sharing your anger at her for dying, if present. In most cases, this leaves an individual with many unfulfilled expectations. If this is your situation, then by all means, spell it out. If she becomes distressed, do not feel guilty because she will not feel bad for long.

Stock comfort food and drink. Finally, realize that while taking care of your loved one day after interminable day, your need for relief will intensify. If it takes three scoops of Cherry Garcia or an entire bag of Cheetos to accomplish this, so be it. Always remember, you must take care of yourself if you are to be of any use to your loved one. Wine will help, hard liquor even more.

For more helpful information about ways to care for the dying patient at home, visit http://deathisforeveryone.org.


Traci Mullins a nonfiction book editor by day, is enjoying unearthing the young girl who loved stories. She discovered flash fiction in 2017 and has been published in four anthologies, Flash Fiction Magazine, Panoply, Fictive Dream, Bending Genres, Flash Boulevard, Cabinet of Heed, Potato Soup Journal, Bright Flash Literary Review, (mac)ro(mic), Blink-Ink, Ellipsis Zine, and many others. She was a two-time finalist in the London Independent Story Prize competition.


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