Chapter 3: Outlining what to expect

Introduction

Many family members will have never seen someone die before, and they may have questions about what to expect and what they can and should do to prepare themselves. It’s common for patients to have similar questions. Some people imagine death will be violent or disturbing in some way, a kind of crisis. Others expect dying will be like a beautiful scene from a movie and are disappointed when it is not.

Remember that memories from the time of death are often lasting and can have a profound impact on grief and bereavement. Your interventions, both medical and supportive, can help prevent future distress.

The article When death is near by the Canadian Virtual Hospice is a comprehensive overview of the physical, cognitive and behavioural changes that occur from months to hours prior to death. An abbreviated version is provided in the pages that follow.