E030 - How to Comfort the Dying
This week Rich and I tackle a very heavy topic and tell you how to be the “most responsible person at your father’s funeral.”
What Did You Do This Week
Justin: Range, tattoo appointment, and most importantly I got to entertain my good friend, Mike Wood. If you haven’t heard it, go listen to Mike’s two-part episode on the American Warrior Show: Part I, Part II. Also be sure to check out Mike’s book, Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis.
Comfort The Dying: First Steps
Why is This Episode Important?
Almost everyone will be confronted with the death of a loved one at some point.
As a society we have ‘sanitized’ death so that we are no longer exposed to it. We used to die at home, hold wakes in our homes, and kill our own meat. We don’t do any of this any longer, and this leads to a discomfort with death and the dying.
We want you to be, in Dr. Jordan Peterson’s words, the “most responsible person at your father’s funeral”
This episode will prepare you for the pain of comforting the dying, and perhaps help you come to terms with your own mortality.
Are they really dying?
Talk to the physician and find out if they are really dying.
If treatments or tests are recommended, find out why. Will it improve length of life. Will they it improve quality of life? Is it necessary?
Will recommended treatments speed up or slow the dying process?
What can we expect in the coming days and weeks?
Consider the needs of the primary caregiver. The individual who is acting as the primary caregiver to a dying person bears an enormous mental and emotional burden. You can relieve some of this by offering:
To relieve that person for an hour or two,
To run an errand for that person like watch the kids, walk the dog, or go get them a change of clothes,
Ask how else has offered to help them.
How to Comfort the Dying
What is “comforting the dying”? Providing care that comforts or soothes the dying person with the goal of relieving any suffering they may be experiencing. Secondarily, you should also seek to improve their quality of life and respect their wishes. A couple things to keep in mind before we begin:
Everyone’s wishes and needs will be different. Respect them.
Everyone’s experience with death will be unique.
There are four ways we can provide comfort to the dying: physical comfort, mental & emotional comfort, spiritual comfort, and practical tasks.
Physical Comfort: This is an extremely important service you can perform for the dying person, and there are a number of ways you can do it.
BE AN ACTIVE PARTICIPANT! Ask the dying person what they need if they can let you know.
Pain management. Give meds if they are desired and available.
Respiratory relief: Morphine can help relieve breathing problems in a dying person.
Skin irritation: You may want to have some ice chips around to moisten the lips and mouth. Lip balm can help, too. The elderly are more likely to have skin irritation. Lotions may help, and if the individual is in bed for an extended period of time, rotating them so they don’t develop bed lesions can be important.
Digestive problems. If the dying person is hungry, let them/help them eat. If they aren’t hungry/don’t want to eat, don’t force them.
Temperature maintenance. Help the person stay warm enough or cool enough.
Mental & Emotional Comfort: This is perhaps the most important form of comfort that you can offer the dying person.
Drugs: It may be worth inquiring about drugs that can help relieve depression and anxiety.
Psychadelic drugs like psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) have been shown in limited clinical trials to greatly relieve anxiety about death. We recommend you learn more by reading How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychadelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan. Also see Pollan’s interview on the Joe Rogan Experience.
BE PRESENT! This is the most important service you can offer the dying person. Be in the room with that person. Let them know they are not alone.
Provide physical touch. Hold that person’s hand or sit close to them in their dying hours.
Consider the environment. If you can make the room more personalized with some touches of home, do it! Even better, let the dying person die at home instead of a sterile, strange hospital room. Some people may want music. Some may want silence. Personalize the environment to the wishes of the dying person.
Side note on pets: If you have pets, please consider contacting a vet about in-home euthanisation, rather than taking them to a scary vet’s office.
Spiritual Comfort: The dying person may search for meaning and grapple with spiritual issues. You can help by:
Allowing the dying person the opportunity to take solace in his or her faith,
Ending disagreements and not bringing disagreements into the hospital room - including disagreements with other friends/family members,
Talk about your relationship, share memories of good times, etc.
Talk TO the person, not ABOUT them and be present
Practical Support: Take over small daily tasks like mowing the lawn, feeding the pets, or taking care of their house if possible. This can relieve the dying person’s concerns about their property, etc.
Additionally, you should have wills, advanced directives, and other legal vehicles in place, long before this time comes. If your dying loved one does not, it would be a good idea to assist him or her in this process if they are able.
Saying Goodbye to a Dying Loved One
Don’t miss the opportunity to say goodbye. Don’t set yourself up to have a lifetime of regrets. Some things that can help:
If you only remember one thing from this episode: There are four things that dying people like to hear - please for give me, I forgive you, thank you, and I love you.
Don’t wait until the last minute,
It is OK to let the dying person know that you know the end is near,
Follow the dying person’s lead,
It is OK to be truthful with the dying person, but an little white lie is OK, too,
Keep talking, even if you’re not sure you’re being heard,
Try to stay present in the moment - don’t get ahead of yourself,
Trust your instincts, not “the rules,”
You don’t have to issue a formal farewell each time you leave the room.
Book of the Week
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankel
Sources: This episode leans very heavily in information from two sources. If you want to know more we recommend checking them out: