Experiences of the Dying

By Susan L. Schoenbeck, MSN, RN

Published in Journal of Practical Nursing, Summer, 2011

Because the packing of death has changed dramatically in the past decade, patients have arrived at the edge of death or crossed over only to be pulled back through medical intervention. LPNs/LVNs may be the one closest to the patient...the ones at the bedside when the patient tells what has just happened.

Because patients receive vital treatment so quickly, their mental faculties often are not impaired. They tell stories that in the past have been lost either to death, to permanent brain damage or, perhaps, to fear of telling the tale.

What happens when we die? Is there, as some believe, simply nothing...an eternal void? Or is there an afterlife? Few among us have not struggled with this question, for death is as certain and natural a process as life itself.

Although death has been around as long as life has, much less is well known about the dying process. Nurses can gain a picture of what dying is like by listening to patients who are at the edge of death and/or have crossed over and returned. Armed with this knowledge, LPNs/LVNs can comfort patients, their families, and loved ones.

Deathbed Talks

There are commonalities people exhibit when close to death. Patients start talking to people not present. A nurse may hear a patient call out to their mother, as if she were in the same room, saying, “I will be there soon.” Sadly many a nurse may document such a statement as a hallucination, although evidence suggests that dying patients talking with people on the other side is not unusual and not frightening. Rather it is what it is. The nurse may explain this to loved ones at the bedside. In this way, the LPN/LVN comforts loved ones left behind.

Visits by Spirits

Nurses also may experience a subconscious knowledge of the departure of patients. When leaving a shift, nurses may consider saying “good-bye” to patients that they recognize are close to death. Also people report they have been visited by someone as the person was dying even though the person was far away at the time. In fact, one hospice nurse told me that she recognized the presence of a patient in her home as the patient was dying at the hospice.

The Final Entrance

They say that all the world’s a stage. If that is true, it is from that stage that we make our final entrance. Research and clinical experiences with patients who have clinically died and have been resuscitated is described as a dark and empty region. Children have said they were scared as they entered the tunnel, but this fear went away quickly. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.