What Can You Say To An Aging Parent Who Is Dying?

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Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney

Alice Davis 96 years

Death and dying are almost taboo to talk about. Since most folks avoid this topic altogether, we at AgingParents.com thought it deserved some attention. We personally had to face a conversation about it during the last part of my mother-in-law, Alice’s life. She was 96, had pneumonia and advanced kidney failure and was in the hospital. Things were not going well there and she knew it.

I had been with her every day, attending to small things, advocating for staff to remember her hearing aids, glasses and dentures in the morning. She was not in pain, but everything was a struggle.

As I sat quietly near her bed one afternoon, she woke up and asked, “Carolyn, am I dying?” I was very glad for my nursing experience at that moment! I said “Mom, the part of you that is capable of receiving love is doing very well right now. Your body, not so much. How do you feel about it?” She said she was scared. We discussed that she was with those of us in her family who loved her and we would be with her all the time, no matter what. I shared with her some things about people’s near-death experiences which they’d written about after coming back. Going to the light, being reunited with loved ones, and the overwhelming feeling of being fully embraced by a loving presence were some of those experiences others had described. She took this in and agreed that it didn’t sound so scary.

While she was in the hospital I asked her if she would say a “mantra” for me when we arrived each day. She said she would. The mantra was “I am loved”. She always remembered it and I asked her every day, “What’s the mantra, Mom?” She came up with it in a clear voice every time.

As the week wore on and it became obvious that the end was close, we asked for Hospice. The hospice representative came within an hour and we arranged for her to be discharged so she could spend her last days in her own bed in her own apartment. There was a bit of scrambling by the company, as this was on the weekend, but it got done. Medicare pays for hospice, on the MD’s order and also covers all equipment needed at home at that point.

Alice passed peacefully several days later in her own bed, held by her daughter and granddaughter. The last private conversation I had with her was to say that when she felt ready, she could let go, it was okay. We loved her and would miss her and we knew her time was coming. Surprisingly, she had the presence of mind to thank me for all I had done in being with her. I asked her to say the mantra one more time. “I am loved” she said. And those were our last words together. I believe she was at peace and we were too. She was conscious and could hear and feel caring all around her. Not a bad way to exit. Share your experiences with us at AgingParents.com. We would like to hear from you about your own aging loved ones.

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