Dying is a natural process.
Yet few people have experience of looking after someone at the end of their life. If you are caring for a loved one, you may be anxious about looking after them at home. However, with the right help, it can be a rewarding experience. It can also bring you closer to the person who is dying.
This page is for someone in the last few weeks and days of life. It also covers what happens after they have died. You may also find this information from Macmillan about end of life helpful.
Looking after yourself
Caring can be physically and emotionally demanding. If you have been looking after your partner, family member or friend for some time, you may start to feel very tired.
As a carer, you may face extra challenges getting support when the person is at the end of life. Whatever your background and identity, it is important to get support and look after yourself, as well as the person you are caring for.
Try and make sure you eat well and do some exercise. If you have any concerns about your own health, visit your GP. Tell them you are caring for someone.
You may also have some strong emotions. You may feel angry, or resent the person you are caring for. Talk to your GP about this too. They can discuss getting some support for you. It can be hard to admit that you might need help. But getting help can make caring a lot easier for you.
There are organisations that can provide information and support to you as a carer.
- you could contact Carers Trust and Carers UK
- the LGBT Foundation and Carers UK have information for people who are LGBTQ+
- you can also search for local carers’ organisations at carers.org
- in many Boots pharmacies, Macmillan Information Pharmacists also offer free specialist advice and support about end-of-life care. This includes information and support about accessing medicines. You can check live stock availability on the Boots website, or Download the list of pharmacies that offer the Palliative Care Service.
It can also help to make sure you have some time to yourself. You could arrange for someone to help you regularly, even if it is only for a few hours a week. You may wish to meet other carers in your position. You can often find end-of-life carers at our events.
When you get time off from caring, try to relax. Doing something you enjoy can help give you more energy and feel less stressed. You could meet someone for coffee or do something just for you, such as watching a film or getting your hair done. Try not to feel guilty – looking after yourself will help you care for you loved one better.
Macmillan is also there to support you. If you need someone to talk to, they can listen. You can:
- Call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00.
- Chat to their information and support specialists online.
- Visit the Macmillan carers forum to talk to other carers online.
Your relationship with the person you are caring for
The person you are caring for may feel many different emotions during this time. They may feel anxious, panicky, angry, resentful, sad and depressed. They may become quieter and want to communicate less (become withdrawn). They might also seem to lose interest in their surroundings.
It is natural for them to have some or all of these feelings. But it can be upsetting for you to see these changes in them. You may already miss the way your relationship used to be and the things you used to do together. This is understandable.
Sometimes, it may feel as though the person is giving up. But this is often part of the natural process of dying. If they seem upset, angry or afraid, try to listen to what they are saying and acknowledge their feelings. Just being there and listening is helpful and comforting.
If you are concerned about how they are expressing their emotions, talk to their GP or another health professional.
If caring becomes difficult
Caring for someone at home can become difficult for many reasons. As time goes on, you may feel they would be better looked after in a hospice or care home. This may be because you do not have the nursing or medical skills to look after them. Or you may feel that caring for them has become very difficult emotionally or physically.
Talk to the district nurse or GP if you are finding caring difficult. They may be able to provide extra support. Or they can give you advice about where your loved one could be cared for.
Sometimes the person you are caring for may need to move from home near the end of their life. It is important not to feel guilty, or feel that you have failed. Instead, remember that you are making sure they get the best possible care.
You can learn more about bereavement and find useful information about end of life, here.