By Dr. Colleen Arnold, as told to Karen Mulder

As a family physician, emergency room doctor and hospice doctor, Colleen Arnold is no stranger to death and dying. But her experience took a personal turn when her husband Neil was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the age of 57. Colleen offers us these three practical ways to care for someone who is dying, based on her personal experience.

Encourage the dying speak realistically about what is happening. Let them talk about the joy they might be anticipating in heaven—seeing friends or relatives who have died before them and relief from their physical pain. Let them share their fear about the dying process or their concern for family left behind.

Let them hear your voice. At the very end of life, it may seem like the dying are no longer awake or listening, but many patients can still hear. There’s no need to whisper at their bedside. Keep in mind they might still enjoy loving words, updates on family, and greetings from friends.

Understand that at the end of life, nourishment needs change. Foods don’t taste the same to the dying. My husband always loved a good burger and a beer, but after his cancer diagnosis, he said they tasted like dog food. And never before had he loved ginger ale like he did in those last few months.

Thank you, Colleen, for sharing your wisdom with us.

Colleen Arnold is a family physician, a widow, and a mother of three young adult daughters. She enjoys hanging out with family, writing, reading, and walking. You can read her blog at ColleenArnold.org.

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