What happens when a loved one is dying?

Death is one of the toughest subjects in life, but we encourage everyone to read this as it will significantly help you understand.

A frequently asked question of our hospice care team is “What should I expect when the dying process begins?”

It can be scary if we don’t know what to expect.  The truth is that each death is as unique as its life.  Some die quickly, without signs or symptoms, while others may hang on for a long time. There are many signs of approaching death and a person may exhibit none, a few, or many of them. There are no set rules.

Below are some signs and symptoms that you may observe that are a natural part of dying.  Please know our care team is available for everyone 24/7 so please contact us at any time with questions.

  • More tired than usual
  • Increased sleep
  • Withdrawal and/or less communication
  • Increased confusion
  • May see vision(s) of deceased loved ones
  • Not as responsive
  • This is often a difficult sign for loved ones because so many of us express our love and nurture one another with food and drink
  • Terminally ill people do not die because they stop eating – they stop eating because they are dying and lack of or no appetite is natural
  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Medical evidence clearly states that dehydration at the end of life aids a natural and compassionate death
  • Forcing fluids can actually lead to a more uncomfortable death because as the body needs less, fluids can cause choking and/or swelling in hands and legs or cause complications in the lungs
  • Blood pressure often lowers
  • Pulse rate can increase or decrease
  • Fluctuates between cold and hot but the extremities are usually colder
  • Perspiration may occur
  • Changeable over time
  • “Mottling” can occur which is a decrease in circulation that looks like bruising
  • The nail beds of hands and feet may be bluish because of decreased circulation and a pale-yellow color (not jaundice) may appear
  • Little or no output and urine may be dark
  • Patient may lose bladder and/or bowel control
  • May become too dry or too moist with a glassy look
  • Open or partly open eyes may appear not to focus
  • Breathing may become more labored, slower, and/or very irregular
  • Breathing may stop for 15, 30, 45 or more seconds before beginning again
  • Can occur because of decreased oxygen in the blood
  • The sound of moist (rattle-like) reparations can be very disturbing to loved ones, although it does not seem to bother patients. Repositioning and medication can help.
  • Up to twelve days or hours before death, some patients regain temporary consciousness or have a temporary burst of energy that allows them to connect with their loved ones, eat, drink and even sit up and walk around
  • Sometimes loved ones seem to hang on, when all of their signs and symptoms point to imminent death. This may be the time to:
    • Give your loved one the opportunity to make peace with their higher power with a visit from a spiritual counselor
    • Express gratitude and love, perhaps ask or grant forgiveness or complete any old business that was unresolved
    • Give your loved one permission to go
    • Tell them you will miss them
    • Let your loved one know that you and other surviving loved ones will take care of one another and that you will be okay
Lifesong Hospice logo


    Lifesong Hospice & Palliative Care
    3880 TecPort Drive
    Suite 2
    Harrisburg, PA 17111
    Get Directions

    Say Hello

    Local: 717-585-6687
    Toll Free: 855-411-7722