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The Dying Process

The body goes through many changes in the dying process. Knowing the common symptoms may help families and children be ready for them when they happen. In some cases, the dying process can be very long. Understanding the physical and mental changes the body goes through as death happens, may help ease some fears and falsehoods about death. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider about any concerns or questions.

These are common symptoms that death is near. But, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Changes in breathing. Slow and fast breathing or long periods without a breath are common. Moaning may happen with breaths. But, this doesn't necessarily mean the child is in pain.

  • Noisy breathing. This may be from secretions the child is unable to clear from his or her throat or lungs.

  • Physical disfigurement. This may be from a progressive tumor.

  • Skin color changes. Pale, bluish, mottled, or blotchy skin is common. This is from a decrease in oxygen and the body's circulation slowing down.

  • Loss of bowel and urine control. .

  • Mental confusion. Confusion or decreased alertness may happen just before death.

Death has happened when the child's heart is not beating and there are no signs of breathing.

Care of the child at the time of death

When a child dies at home in hospice care, it's not an emergency. If paramedics are called, depending on local law and whether documentation is available, they may be required to try to resuscitate the child, even if it is against the families' wishes.

The family is given as much time as needed before the child is removed from the home or hospital. This time is for the privacy of the family and loved ones. You may hold, bathe, and/or dress the child. You may also have spiritual or cultural rituals.

Even when death is expected, the family will be in shock and will be grieving. Funeral and autopsy arrangements, made before the time of death, will need to be processed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Pat F Bass MD MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
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