When a loved one is in the final stages of life and it's clear that death is near, he or she may seem closed off to you as body systems shut down and awareness seems elusive. Especially at the end of a disease such as Alzheimer's, which robs someone of the ability to communicate and respond, it's easy to feel unsure about how to express your love and support.
Rely on physical touch. Holding hands, stroking a shoulder, or lying beside a loved one are among the most powerful forms of communication available.
Talk. Hospice workers assure families that those who don't seem "present" can almost always continue to hear. Tell your loved one what you're thinking, that he or she is loved and cherished. Sing, reminisce quietly, or say prayers. Now is not the time to rehash old wounds or work out practical details.
Keep a calm atmosphere. Little things – soft music, quiet reminiscing, fresh flowers in the room – make a big difference.
Be a good listener. If your loved one is lucid and can speak, give him or her the space to do so. It's not about you.
Try to stay present. Survivors report that each precious moment can feel emotionally charged—but overthinking this enormity can, ironically, dilute your ability to fully experience those moments.
Trust your instincts. Don't let anyone tell you there's a "right" way to behave. For some people, for example, jokes and obliviousness are the right tone right to the end.
Say what you need to say, when you need to say it. Not knowing if a parting is the final one brings the happiest of visits to an uncertain juncture. Here's where it helps to have expressed love, appreciation, forgiveness, and reassurance in an ongoing way, grieving survivors say. You don't have just one chance to make your peace. Say what you need to say many times and in different ways, and you'll be less likely to have regrets when the moment finally comes.
Be there. You can speak volumes without uttering a word It's hard to say good-bye – but you don't have to "say" anything. Most critical: Just show up.
Foot rubs, stroking an arm or shoulder, kisses, smiles, and gazing into someone's eyes all communicate compassion, love, and gratitude for a shared lifetime. With or without accompanying conversation, your presence and your touch rank among the most eloquent, regret-free ways there are of saying good-bye.
Reassure your loved one that, although you're sad about what's happening, everyone in his or her life will rally together and move forward. Those who are dying are often actively listening for this reassurance.
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