Mental Health, Work

Seeing Death

Content note: this post contains themes around death and the elderly. Please read on at your own discretion.

In my job, I work with elderly people who need a lot of support towards the end of their lives. This means that by default I am going to encounter death. It was something we were warned early on. However, that doesn’t make seeing death any less painful. This week we lost a resident I got along with well and I saw my first close to death person.

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Death is nothing like Hollywood portrays it. When someone is in their last few hours (when not hooked up to machines and such) they rarely lay there looking like they are sleeping, like they are calm and could slip away at any time. When someone is dying slowly you can see it in their face, the way they lay, their breathing.

The resident we lost last week spent her final day gasping for air. She wasn’t present anymore, I think her body was the only thing remaining as you could see very little of herself there.

I hadn’t been around someone actually in their final hours before, only days previous where their health was deteriorating. I had never seen the way they lie, the cold skin, the absent look, or the sound of breathing that is like no other I have ever heard. This meant when I first went into her room on my break, I was hit with shock. I couldn’t stay there long, I looked at her from the end of her bed. Then I left the room as quickly as I had entered.

It took me a few minutes to process what I had seen. Honestly I was shocked she was still there at this point just because of her face. She was grey, and her mouth hung open, her breathing was more like gasping but, despite this, she showed no sign of pain or suffering. It was difficult to explain, but you could see that she wasn’t herself anymore.

Once I had gathered my strength I knew she was in there alone until family arrived, and a gaggle of carers standing outside of her door was not going to be a nice way to go (if she was to go before her family arrived). So I went inside and sat with her. I stroked her face, spoke to her. Her skin was getting colder, her breathing worse. I stayed there for the duration of my break, not wanting her to be alone. Her family were on their way and it would be nice for them to see her again, if just so she could go surrounded by loved ones.

The resident did not go while I was there, in fact she didn’t die until a few hours after my shift ended. Her daughter’s were there at the time, she wasn’t alone. When I heard this the next day that she had gone I felt pleased in a way. It was good to know she wasn’t suffering now, and her family could move past the state of limbo where they were waiting for the day to come. I know she will be missed, by the home as well as by the family. But sometimes it is time for a person to go.

It may have been the first time I saw death, but I am certain it won’t be the last. I still haven’t seen the moment someone is gone, I haven’t had to wash down someone’s body after they have passed, but I know I will soon. Death is something people tend to shy away from talking about, but I think it is important, and healthy to do so. Being in my job I see it a lot more than others, and I think by not talking about it we can kid ourselves to believing it will go away. Unfortunately it doesn’t, so I think it is important to healthily talk about it, make plans with elderly or unwell relatives, put things in place. It will make things a lot easier when the time comes, and easier to allow yourself to grieve – something a lot of people don’t get when they are too wrapped up making plans for funerals and clearing out homes.
Tell me followers, what are your experiences with death? Have any of you experienced someone who is dead? How did it affect you? If this post has brought up memories or negative feelings, please do not be afraid to seek help. Speak to someone, a therapist or a counselor, or just someone you feel close to. Don’t bottle up feelings you hold inside around these topics as they can eat you up. My thoughts go out to anyone affected by death, sending you my deepest sympathies and best wishes.

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