The final moments

Particularly in the last few minutes, the person’s face muscles may relax and they may become very pale. Their jaw may drop and their eyes may become cloudy.

The heart will stop beating. The person’s breathing will eventually stop. Often, the person’s body will completely relax.

Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the exact moment when the person died. Check for a pulse. There may be one or two last gasps a minute or so after what seemed like the last breath. However, you should note down the time as close as possible to the moment they died.

What can you do?

  • This is always a profound moment, even when death has been expected for days. Family who are present may be distressed and want some time alone. Expect any emotion. Some family members may be angry, afraid, feel relief that their relative is no longer in pain. Others may be very matter of fact and want to grieve in their own way.
  • Be aware of any religious or spiritual needs the person may have expressed before they died. Some religions require specific ceremonies to be performed by a member of  the faith they belonged to. This should always be respected.
  • Staff may react in different ways. Obviously there will be practical tasks which need to be done such as supporting the family, reporting to medical staff to get a medical  certificate cause of death form, laying out the body and making immediate arrangements. 
  • Sometimes staff can suddenly feel overwhelmed with sadness. You may want to be alone, or you may want to call someone close to you or discuss your feelings with another member of staff. You may be exhausted with the caring and the waiting, and the relief and finality of the moment of death can take you by surprise.
  • If you have strong emotions tell someone you trust, seek help. Even if emotions do not appear until much later it can help to reflect on your feelings to come to terms with them.
  • Useful links to a variety of resources are included at the end of this section.