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PSY 180 - Psychology of Aging - Textbook


Nearing the End of Life: A Guide for Relatives and Friends of the Dying

© 2008 Sue Brayne. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission from the authors, Sue Brayne and Peter Fenwick. Contact Sue Brayne at

Death is not usually a time of wonderful experiences.But it is frequently a time
for healing experiences.

Dr. Sherwin Nuland


Welcome to Nearing the End: a Guide for Relatives and Friends of the Dying. We hope it will provide support and direction for you during the difficult times when someone you love and care for is dying.

Death is an emotive subject. In our modern culture most of us have little direct or personal experience of it. As a result, we can often be ignorant or afraid of death and dying. Rather than accepting it as part of our life experience, we can find ourselves running away.

This Guide – which draws on our research into end-of-life experiences – looks at the physical, emotional and spiritual progression of the dying process, and the impact this can have on you as relatives and friends, especially if you have never been with a dying person before. (Spirituality, within this context, is concerned with the search for meaning, purpose and hope).

How we respond to death depends on the nature of our relationship to the dying person. For instance, we will react quite differently to the death of a child than to the death of an elderly relative. We may be affected by the death of a close friend more than a close relative. We may grieve more acutely over the death of one parent than the other. 

Knowing what to expect can lessen any dread of what you may see and experience, and can help you to play a positive and supporting role when someone close to you approaches the end of their life.

The questions this Guide will try to answer:

  • Why is there so much fear of death?
  • What do dying people need?
  • What is the best way to support someone – spiritually and emotionally – who is dying?
  • What should you do if you need to stop life-extending treatment?
  • Should you be there at the end?
  • What happens as the person enters their final phase?
  • What happens at the moment of death?
  • How can you support yourself – before, during and immediately afterwards?