Allies In Transition

How To Prepare For A Peaceful Death: Allies In Transition
Thoughts From The Field

Allies In Transition
May 30, 2004

Hallucinating can be an extremely frightening experience for individuals and their family or caregivers. But, for many individuals who are nearing their death, hallucinations may be a method of connection with another state of being.

When I talked to my father, approximately four months before he died, I asked him if he was afraid to die. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “People think I am sleeping when I am sitting here in my chair, but I see my parents and brothers and sisters. What is there to be afraid of?” Since the people to whom my Dad was referring were all deceased, I knew that he was seeing something in his mind. Whatever he was seeing was real to him and in this instance gave him peace.

I have been with many home care patients as they described in detail what they were seeing. Many individuals also talk to their hallucinations. As a caregiver, it is important to understand that when this is a normal phenomenon and at times to encourage the dialogue. This may be a method of affecting something that requires completion in one’s life before being able to die peacefully.

For caregivers who are less informed, the hallucinating individual presents a source of disturbance. Since hallucinations are often connected with drug overdose, drug abuse, or mental illness, it is frequently difficult for the family or caregiver to understand the normalcy of this stage of death. Occasionally the hallucinations will prompt aggressive or loud outbreaks from an individual. Although a little frightening to both the individual and the caregiver, this is also normal. For the caregiver, the best course of action is to reassure the dying individual that they are ok and that they are loved by people around them.

Since many physicians are not experienced in end-of-life care, when they are told about the perceived abnormal behavior of an individual, they prescribe mind controlling medications. Medications given in this instance are not only useless but can be damaging to the patient and cause more agitation or interfere with natural sleep patterns.

Statistically 10% of the world population dies a sudden death while 90% die of old age or chronic illness. For the majority of the population, dying is a unique experience, dependent on cultural, psychosocial, and spiritual beliefs. I have learned that merely being present with the person and following their lead and need for attention allows them and their family to be at peace. If the environment is peaceful and loving, the process of dying takes a more natural course and progresses faster than in an environment of chaos.

I encourage those readers, who are confronting hallucinations with a previously mentally competent individual, to consider that maybe the individual is preparing in their own unique way for a peaceful death.