- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Caring for someone nearing the end of life
- Providing physical support
- Choosing the moment to die
Choosing the moment to die
Sometimes people appear to pick the moment to die. You may have heard stories of some people holding out until a particular relative or friend arrives at their bedside, or until a special occasion occurs, before dying. Others appear to wait until their family or friends have left the room before they die.
It can be difficult if you’ve been sitting with someone for many days, and they die while you are taking a break. You may feel guilty or regretful for not being there for them at that crucial moment, but it may help to know that this might be the person’s preference.
What happens at death
No-one really knows what death feels like, but we know what death looks like from those who have nursed a dying relative or friend. The person’s breathing will cease, although they may stop breathing for a time and then take one or two final breaths. As soon as the heart stops beating, the body rapidly cools down and takes on a pale appearance.
The moment of death is sometimes described as being peaceful. Many carers say it was a profoundly moving experience and it felt like a privilege to be there. The memory of the final moments are likely to stay with you for a long time.
We had all surrounded my father-in-law’s bedside, then we started to share the vigil in turns. When there were fewer people around, he passed away.
Dr Megan Ritchie, Staff Specialist Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Service, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Rosemary Cavanough, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Metro South Palliative Care Service, QLD; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC; Rowena Robinson, Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia, ACT; Helena Rodi, Program Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.