Our journey into dying is moving closer to its final destination. There are more signs of approaching death. We are down to a few days.
Just a few more days to be in this particular body at this particular time. Nothing more to do. Just letting go. Just letting go.
One afternoon close to sunset Emma woke up out her slumber. First she looked at Arthur with her big blue eyes. Then she looked out of the window of her living room.
She asked whether Arthur would help her go outside. She wanted to sit on her lovely deck, look out at her back yard and enjoy the warm summer breeze. It was June and all her pots were in bloom.
Emma and Arthur sat out there for while. Not saying much.
Arthur told her about the friends who had brought over her favorite pot roast dinner. And some home grown raspberries. Freshly picked that morning.
Small things. Things that are part of the fabric of life between two married people. Married for a long time.
After about an hour Emma was ready to go back to bed.
That was the last time Emma left the house and her bed.
Golden Days or Moments
A few weeks before death one day might be very different. Different in terms of all the other days. It will stand out, for sure. It has a definite place among the signs of approaching death.
When we are dying we might be deeply lost in our inner world. Not wanting to see anyone. Or talk to anyone. Not even to our closest friends or family members.
All days are the same. Look the same. Not much happening.
One day is different.
We might want to go for drive to see the colorful fall leaves. We might ask for some food from our favorite restaurant. A whole meal. We might want to take a roll in our wheel chair through the neighborhood.
This different day is called a Golden Day or Golden Moment.
As if our life force flares up one more time. In brilliant colors. In a spectacular display of one more day of life. One more hour of life. One more moment of life.
Just one more time.
And then - time to go now. Time to let the body do its thing. Time to move a step closer to death. We passed another sign of approaching death.
After Emma's one more Golden Afternoon with Arthur she went back to bed and back to sleeping. Her sleep was getting deeper. She was harder to rouse. She would not talk anymore. Even if we asked her a question. There was no response.
By that time she was neither eating nor drinking anymore. She was not moving her body on her own anymore. She just lay there in her bed. Her head raised up. Resting peacefully. On her way home.
A Few Physical Signs of Approaching Death
At this point most of the signs that death is getting close, are physical signs. These are signs of our bodies shutting down dying. Just shutting down. Slowly but surely for some. Rapidly and all at once for others.
It was a Sunday afternoon. Bill was dozing in his favorite chair. Allison had just turned around to put away some towels.
When she looked back at Bill he had died. Just like that. No build up. No waiting for him to take his last breath. He just died.
The following changes in our bodies can be clearly observed when we look closely. When we allow ourselves to get close to this loved one dying. Our loved one dying.
Here are a few typical symptoms of our bodies shutting down while dying:
As you can see from this list, a number of processes in our bodies are slowing down or stop altogether. As preparation for our dying.
Just another miraculous thing our bodies know how to do without us telling them.
Dying is so much part of being human. As much a part as living is. As much a part as being born is.
By the next morning Emma was not looking so peaceful anymore. There was a frown on her face. Especially between her eyebrows.
Ever so often she was moving her head back and forth. She was even moaning a bit.
Emma was definitely not feeling comfortable. Something was irritating her. This was hard to watch.
Sometimes we can feel uncomfortable when our bodies are breaking down. It can be like one big irritation.
One of the signs of approaching death is called "terminal agitation". It is most visible in our faces. But we can feel it all over our bodies.
We might have a frown between our eyebrows. We might moan and groan. We might move our heads back and forth.
This phase can be intense for the one dying as we are not used to seeing a body breaking down. A body stopping all its normal functions. At this point in our journey modern pain medication definitely can make a difference.
Imagine being in a body where you cannot move your limbs anymore. You are too weak. You cannot say anything. Your mouth is too dry. You are only half awake. But you are feeling very uncomfortable.
To me this would be hell. Feeling in pain and not being able to do anything about it. Or even say anything about it.
When this happens, it really helps to have been admitted to hospice (at least in the USA). Or to get admitted. Even at that late stage.
By being on hospice a trained nurse will stop by daily to prescribe and often deliver any pain medication that would be helpful. The hospice nurse is also able to help us decipher some of the signs of approaching death. Plus a nurse is on call 24/7 in case additional help or medication is needed.
A Word About Knowing When Death Might Occur
Caregivers, nurses and doctors are often asked: “How much longer till my loved one will die?”. To be honest, no one can accurately predict, when our loved ones will actually die. There are too many factors involved which determine the time of death.
Jerrye Wright, the director of Ashland Hospice, shared with me an interesting observation: What we can do, when we are around someone who is dying, is to simply watch for any changes occurring.
If the changes occur every few weeks, we or our loved ones have weeks to live. Changes like loss of appetite or emotional releases.
If the changes occur within days, we or our loved ones have days to live. Changes like being unable to swallow fluids.
If the changes occur within hours, we or our loved ones have hours to live. Changes like terminal agitation.
I liked this way of looking at dying as it empowers us to watch for these changes and then make our own rough estimates.