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When Someone You Love Is Ready to Die

Sometimes letting go is the right thing to do


Family Caregiver Alliance

It's hard to know how to respond when a loved one tells you he or she is ready to die. Is there something you can address to change his or her mind or is it time to accept that he or she is ready to go?

Sometimes we confuse letting go with wanting a person to die, although these are separate situations. There are various reasons a person may want to die, reasons quite separate from those for letting go.

Identify Underlying Issues

Depression is one response to finding life too painful in some way. Some people cannot tolerate losing control, so they want to take control of dying. It can be unpleasant to be disabled or in a place one does not want to be or isolated from the important people and things in one's life.

Very often, a severely ill person feels like a burden to family and friends, and may wish to die rather than let this continue. Fears of the future, even of dying, may be so great that a person wants to die to get away from that future. Inadequately controlled pain or other symptoms can make life seem unbearable.

For many of these problems the right sort of help can make a great improvement, and replace the desire to die with a willingness to live out this last part of life.

If you have addressed these possibilities and your loved one is still telling you that he or she is ready to go, it can be a loving act to accept this desire and help make his or her last days as comfortable and happy as they can be. How will you know if this is the case?

Is It Time to Let Go?

Is it time to give a loved one permission to die? There are three ways to help decide.

First, look at the medical situation. Has the illness really reached its final stages? When it has, the body is usually moving on its own toward dying, with strength declining, appetite poor, and often the mind becoming sleepier and more confused. Treatments are no longer working as well as before, and everyday activities are becoming more and more burdensome. In a sense, life is disappearing.

Second, talk with people you trust. Discuss the situation with the family members and friends who seem to be able to see things as they are. You might also talk with people who are not personally involved. Choose the people whose judgment you trust, not just those with an official role of giving advice. Most important, what does the dying person think?

Third, listen to your heart. Try to see beyond your fears and wishes, to what love and caring are saying to you. What is really best for the one who is dying, and for the others around? Given that death is unavoidable, what is the kindest thing to do? It might be holding on. It might be letting go.

More:
Help a loved one stay in charge as life ends
Facing the loss of someone dear

Based on content from the Family Caregiver Alliance article "End of Life Choices: Holding on and Letting Go."

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