Compassion and Support


Patients & Families

The Dying Process

Advanced Care Planning(From Journey’s End: A Guide To Understanding the Dying Process by Deborah Sigrist)


When a person is dying, changes take place in the physical, mental, emotional-social and spiritual dimensions. These changes may occur at different times and at different rates.  The physical changes that occur have to do with circulation, metabolism, breathing, lung secretions, elimination and the senses. Essentially, the body is shutting down and what may be abnormal when a person is healthy, is normal and expected during the dying process. For families of a dying person, this may be one of the most important but difficult ideas to accept.  Mental activity may decrease or lose its clarity during the dying process.  Periods of restlessness, confusion, increased sleepiness or unresponsiveness are among the changes. The emotional-social changes during the dying process often accompany the person’s necessary detachment from the outside world and pulling inward as death nears.  Spirituality is something we all define and interpret differently.  Spirituality may include, but is not limited to religious faith. Our views, language and rituals are guides to interpreting this dimension of dying.


Death can occur suddenly or as a process over time.  The signs of approaching death mirror a slowing down of the body.  What may be abnormal during life becomes normal during the dying process.

Death is a unique experience for each person coming in its own time and in its own way. 

Someone who has always shared feelings is likely to do so during the dying process.   On the other hand, a person who has been stoic, private or independent throughout life, is likely to approach death in this way.   

Dying happens to the whole person, not just the body.  The individual is affected physically, emotionally-socially, mentally and spiritually.  All dimensions do not always move along at the same pace.  Pain and suffering, comfort and healing can occur in any or all of the dimensions of a person, not just the body.

The dying process involves work as the person gradually lets go.  If the body can be made comfortable, the person is free to work on matters of the heart in preparation for death.  This work may include completing unfinished business, finding meaning in life, and reflection on past and present relationships with others.  

Even though one is physically dying, the emotional-social and spiritual dimensions have tremendous potential for growth during the dying process. 

Signs of Dying

When a person is dying, there are signs that family and friends can expect to see:

Vigil, Moment and Bereavement

As the patient reaches their final hours, families and friends find it helpful to understand what to expect:
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