On Death and Dying

Death is a natural process and one that comes to us all. Hospice is a unique form of support for the patient and patient’s loved ones, with the goals of easing pain and discomfort and providing spiritual and emotional support. Hospice neither hastens nor prolongs death.

Studies have shown that patients live longer when they receive support and care from hospice than other patients with the same prognosis who do not opt for hospice.

When is it time to call hospice?

The decision to begin hospice services may feel overwhelming and frightening to some people, but it needn’t be. Accepting hospice services does not mean you have given up. It only  means you have chosen to focus on quality of life.

In general, hospice care is available when a physician has indicated a patient has a life-limiting illness and has a life-expectancy of 6 months or less. Accepting hospice services means you will not be pursuing curative treatment for you illness, although you can ask about palliative care at any point.

Visit this page for more information on knowing when to reach out to hospice for support

Signs of dying

Changes in the way the body works are a normal part of the dying process. Your hospice care team can help you understand what changes to expect and how the pain and stress of dying can be minimized.

Some of the natural changes that occur include:

  • Less appetite or interest in food
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control, change in color or consistency
  • Breathing rate
  • Body temperature
  • Skin appearance
  • Mental state or behavior
  • Sleeping more or being unresponsive

Some patients or caregivers report of dying people seeing visions, frequently of loved ones who have died previously. Sometimes the patient may speak of going on a journey or “going home”. These are not uncommon experiences and should not cause you concern.

Click here to read more on how to be with someone who’s dying.

Resources on death and dying

There are any number of websites, books and other resources about death and dying. Here are a few to consider:

Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, researcher and author of several books, including Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.  Dr. Guwande worked with PBS Frontline to make a documentary version of “Being Mortal”.

Dr. Ira Byock is a leading palliative care doctor who writes about death, dying and care for the dying

Barbara K. Barnes, RN writes a blog on questions related to death and dying, and provides information for both professionals and families.

Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) is a national organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality palliative care services for people facing serious illness.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) is a member-based organization that promotes and supports hospice, palliative care and end-of-life information.

Death Cafe is a fairly informal, international effort to raise awareness of death and help people feel more comfortable talking about death. At a Death Cafe participants gather to share refreshments and talk about death. There is no set agenda. In Ithaca, Death Cafes have been held quarterly. Email deathcafeithaca@gmail.com for more information on upcoming local Death Cafes.

Dying Matters focuses on raising awareness of death, dying and bereavement.

Read our articles on death and dying here.