The final stages of life are difficult for both the dying and the loved ones. Preparing for the death of a loved one is unimaginable, yet it is an experience everyone will face at some point. Understanding the dying process and what you can expect may be beneficial.

Here are some symptoms or signs indicating that death is close at hand.  Remember, though, the dying process is as unique as each individual.  These are some of the most typical symptoms.  However, not everyone experiences all the symptoms or experiences them in the same order, or experiences them within a set time frame.


Individuals nearing the end of their life often withdraw from the world around them, losing interest in those things he or she formerly found very interesting. Those dying tend to sleep more and interact less.


The dying experience often includes hallucinations or visions.  Seeing loved ones who have previously passed away is common. They may talk to people you cannot see. While this can be very unsettling for the loved ones, it is perfectly normal.

Lack of Appetite

Losing interest in food and drink is also common as a person nears death.  Do not force your loved one to eat or drink.  Remember, as the physical body dies, the organs shut down, and they no longer need food or water to function.  Respect the wishes of the dying person.  Provide them with food or liquid as they want it and accept their wishes not to partake.

Changes to Bowel and Bladder Function

Constipation and incontinence are both common occurrences as death nears.  While medication may be offered to help the individual feel comfortable, it is important for loved ones not to react, as this can be upsetting for your dying loved one, who may already be embarrassed at their lack of bodily control.

Agitation, Confusion, and Restlessness

Again, these feelings are very common with those nearing death.  They can be a result of medications, dehydration, or lack of oxygen reaching the brain.  If the agitation is extreme, the doctors may offer medication to help calm the individual. Remember, you need to remain calm and support your dying loved one.

Changes in Breathing Patterns

Breathing may become quick and shallow, or labored and slow.  While this is often disturbing for the loved ones gathered around, it is a natural process in the act of dying.  You need to remain calm, and not panic your loved one.  It might help to raise the head of the bed to help your loved one breath easier.

Temperature and Color Changes

The blood moves way from the body’s extremities towards the vital organs as death nears.  The hands and feet will be cool to the touch while the abdomen area feels warm.  A high fever may occur.  In addition, the skin may experience color changes such as purplish blotches or mottling on the arms and legs or the skin tone may be yellowish.  Simply try to keep your loved one as comfortable as possible.  Cover your loved one with a blanket to provide warmth if they feel cold.  Soothe a fever with a cold cloth if they feel hot.  It is very likely that your loved will go back and forth from feeling hot to feeling cold.

Saying Good-bye

This is your loved one’s final gift to you.  Listen and hold them.  Say what you need to say, whether it is a simple good-bye, a reminder of your love, remembering a favourite memory, or offering an apology.  It is okay to cry.  Let your honest emotions come out and share them with your loved one.


Experiencing the death of a loved one is extremely difficult, no matter how prepared you are.  Staying with your loved one as he or she takes their last breath can be your final gift, a reminder of your love.  However, not everyone is able to stay through those last moments.  Do not judge them.  Just as every person dying goes through a unique process, so does every person experiencing grief.  This is a not a time for judgment, but a time to gather loved ones close and appreciate each other.