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Health Information and Tools > Palliative and End-of-Life Care > Helpful Resources > Overview >  Final Days - Trying to Understand
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Final Days - Trying to Understand

When someone you care about is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, it can take time and effort to understand what’s happening. It’s common for you, your loved one, and others to have many feelings. Someone with a life-threatening illness may:

  • have feelings, hopes, and needs that change after their diagnosis
  • have more fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness
  • feel confused and not know what to expect
  • pull away from others
  • stop doing normal life activities or do them less because they feel more tired

As a family member or friend, you may find that during this time:

  • you feel time stands still
  • things that are important to you (your priorities) change
  • life and death take on new meanings
  • you realize the things in life you depend on have changed
  • your hopes for the future change
  • you find it harder to understand what life is for and what it means

When death gets closer

As someone gets closer to death, not knowing what will happen can be scary and hard to handle. It’s normal to sleep more, have less energy, eat less, or withdraw from family and friends.

These changes may not all happen or go through a certain order, but it’s still important to be aware of them, prepare, and know what to expect.

Ways you can help

Just being there for your loved one is one of the best ways to offer comfort and support. Having you and others around can still be a powerful way of connecting even if you’re not talking. You can help your loved one cope by:

  • talking about the past when they are awake and want to talk
  • sharing how important the person has been to you
  • writing stories and memories in a notebook to share with them
  • enjoying laughs together to help lessen stress and bring you closer
  • telling them about your day
  • dimming lights or playing their favourite soft music
  • giving them a hug, holding their hand, or giving them a gentle massage, if they want to be touched

It’s up to you how much you help with their daily care. The nursing staff can show you how to provide care such as mouth care, positioning for comfort and helping in the washroom.

Make sure you take care of yourself and that you take time to rest, eat, and drink enough fluids.