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Denys Cope RN, BSN, MSS
Ask the Expert Nurse and End of Life Coach

February 2nd, 2008
I'm afraid to be with my mother when she passes away. In the movies, it is a scary thing. Help.

Your fear is understandable, and quite common. We are all afraid of the unknown, and for most of us, other than Hollywood, we do not as a society have accurate information about what is a very natural and predictable process.
Being with your mother can be a very special and powerful time, as long as you have support and accurate information about the actual stages she will go through. We so often project upon the dying suffering that we think they are going through because we imagine how we might feel if it was us. Our loved one is in a body that is dying and therefore are having a very different experience of their body than we the, living, have in ours.

The actual process and expected stages can be found in my article “The Dying Process” archived on AgingPro.

One woman I worked with long-distance called one day. From the description of her mother’s breathing pattern, I recognized she was in the advanced labor of dying, so I described the stages her mother would be going through in her remaining hours. It took all of about fifteen or twenty minutes to explain this. Later Katerin sent me the following note that has meant so much and says it all:
"I can't even begin to tell you how instrumental you were in helping me embrace my mom's dying process in love and release. I am so grateful for your call to the convalescent center and your quick walkthrough of the physical process. Right before you called I was ready to leave, very afraid of what was going to happen. Your words gave me strength, and I was able to be present for my mom and love her through her accomplishment.
“She was so loving and courageous in return. I will never fear death, and have been forever altered by that mysterious event. I am so grateful to you.
Thank you seems so feeble an expression. In James Joyce’s words, it was an epiphany.”


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