The process of dying is a profound and natural part of life. As individuals approach the end of their journey, it becomes important to understand the medical aspects of dying, which can have a significant impact on the choices made regarding funeral and memorial services.
This blog article delves into the medical processes that occur when a person is nearing the end of life and explores how these processes can influence the decisions made by individuals and their families when planning funerals and memorial services. Whether it be a traditional funeral service, a modern day life celebration, a natural or traditional burial, or cremation, when the time comes, knowing what to expect can help individuals to find solace that their choices will provide a meaningful way for loved ones to be remembered and to honour their lives.
The Medical Process of Dying
As an individual approaches the end of their life, several physiological and medical processes take place. These processes can vary depending on the individual’s health, age, and specific circumstances, but they often include the following:
In the final stages of life, the cardiovascular system undergoes significant changes. Blood pressure drops, and the heart rate may become irregular. As circulation weakens, the extremities may become cool to the touch.
Breathing patterns may change, becoming irregular and shallow. This can be distressing for both the individual and their loved ones as they witness these changes.
Palliative care and pain management become critical aspects of end-of-life care. Managing pain and discomfort is a primary concern to ensure the individual’s comfort and dignity.
Mental and Emotional Changes
Dying individuals may experience altered mental states, including mental confusion or restlessness. They may also have moments of lucidity and reflection.
Loss of Appetite
Many individuals nearing the end of life experience a loss of appetite. This is a natural response as the body’s energy needs decrease.
As the body weakens, individuals may lose control over bodily functions, including bladder and bowel control. This can be distressing and necessitates sensitive care.
Muscle weakness and fatigue can lead to reduced mobility and ultimately bed-bound status.
As the body prepares for the end of life, consciousness may decrease, and the individual may become unresponsive. Communication becomes challenging during this stage.
Changes in Skin Colour
The skin may take on a pallor or bluish tint as circulation decreases.
Some individuals experience terminal restlessness, characterised by agitation or distress. Medications and compassionate care can help manage this.
These medical changes are a natural part of the dying process. Understanding these changes can help individuals and their families make informed decisions about end-of-life care and the type of funeral or memorial service that may be most appropriate. Picaluna Funerals can help with planning at this stage. Funeral bonds and prepaid funeral plans allow individuals to make financial arrangements in advance, ensuring that their wishes are met without placing a burden on their loved ones also funeral costs can vary widely depending on the chosen services and location, making it crucial for families to plan and budget accordingly.
When Death Occurs
In Australia, the regulations regarding how long you can keep a body at home can vary depending on the state or territory. Generally, it is not common practice to keep a deceased person at home for an extended period, and many people opt to transfer the body promptly to a funeral home or mortuary.
It’s important to note that handling deceased bodies at home should be done with great care and respect, and the body should be appropriately stored. If you have a personal, cultural, or religious reason for wanting to keep a body at home, Picaluna Funerals can assist, and here are several important steps you should take to ensure that you handle the situation in accordance with local regulations:
Contact a healthcare professional: If your relative passes away at home, you should contact a healthcare professional or your family doctor to confirm the death and obtain a medical certificate stating the cause of death. In some cases, a coroner may need to be involved if the cause of death is uncertain or suspicious.
Consult a death Doula or funeral director: Picaluna Funeral Directors and their end-of-life doulas can guide you through the process of preparing and caring for the body. They can provide advice on proper storage, and any legal requirements for transportation or burial.
Respect cultural or religious practices: If you have specific cultural or religious customs related to death and mourning, follow them while keeping the body at home.
Prepare a suitable environment: Ensure the room where you plan to keep the body is cool, well-ventilated, and secure. Use appropriate equipment, such as a cooling bed, dried-ice or cooling blanket, to support the body. It is most important to keep your loved one as cool as possible. Turn off the heating of the room they’re in, put freezer packs wrapped in a tea towel on their stomach, turn an air conditioner on, if you have one.
After death the body will gradually cool to room temperature and the body’s complexion will most likely change. Blood will go in the direction of gravity, which means the skin may be darker towards the back. (There also may not be any changes at all). It is recommended to lay the body flat on the back, especially if the person has been sitting up in bed, this will help when it’s time to remove or lay the body in a coffin. Rigour mortis means that a person’s muscles go stiff and then relax again. But rigour mortis doesn’t affect everyone in the exact same way.
It may be reassuring to remember that the person is perfectly safe in bed. But if you feel it’s right to move them, they don’t need to stay exactly where they are.
Some families also want time to gather and visit the person who has died. It’s quite common for people to prefer to do this in the comfort of their own home.
A Cooling Bed, also known as a Cooling Plate or Cooling Blanket, is a compact refrigeration unit which pumps coolant into a metal plate or blanket on which the deceased is laid out. Ice can be utilised however, a cooling bed is a non-invasive and easier to use option. Picaluna can help organise this.
The Ancient Practice of Holding Vigil
Holding vigil is the practice of staying with our dead and accompanying them until their spirit departs from their body or when our deep creative unconscious informs us. It appears that three days allows the human psyche the necessary time to go through the stages of trauma, despair and finally the gentle beginning of acceptance. These stages often involve the washing and preparing of the body and then inviting others into this sacred space to see their loved one who has died and be witnessed in this experience of deep love and loss.
When a Baby Dies
When an infant dies the benefits of parents and families spending as much time as is required, without the baby needing to be cooled in a traditional mortuary environment is understood well in the Australian healthcare system. To enable this, Cuddle Cots are now being provided by some Australian hospitals.
A cuddle cot is a cooling system that lies beneath the baby within a bassinet. It allows a window of time for the family to create memories, for siblings to meet one another and other family members to travel to meet the baby. Cuddle cots extend the time for families to be together and also give parents the option of taking their baby home. Their use is a way to support the harrowing experience of losing a baby, as well as honouring babies who have died.
Honouring the Deceased and Service Options
Traditional Funeral Services
Traditional funeral services may involve embalming, viewing, a formal service, and burial in a cemetery. These services are common and provide a structured way for loved ones to say their goodbyes.
Life Celebration Funerals
A growing trend is the celebration of life funerals. These services focus on celebrating the individual’s life rather than dwelling on their passing. They often incorporate music, and other elements that reflect the individual’s unique personality and interests.
Some people opt for non-traditional funeral services that deviate from conventional customs. These can include outdoor funerals, destination memorials, or unique ceremonies that align with the individual’s wishes.
Natural burials have gained popularity as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burials. In natural burials, the body is interred in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, allowing for an eco-friendly return to the earth.
Cremation or Burial
Deciding between cremation and burial is a personal choice that can be influenced by medical factors such as the condition of the body. Cremation is often chosen for its simplicity and flexibility in the memorialisation options.
Scattering Ashes Ceremony
For those who opt for cremation, a scattering ashes ceremony can be a meaningful way to say goodbye. Ashes can be scattered in a location significant to the individual or their loved ones.
Funeral or Memorial Service Planning
Picaluna Funerals will aid in planning a funeral or memorial service. Planning involves selecting a funeral venue, arranging for a celebrant or clergy, and coordinating various elements like music, readings, and eulogies. The medical condition of the deceased may impact the mortuary services required.
Live Stream Funeral: In an age of technology, live streaming funeral services has become increasingly common. This allows friends and family who cannot attend in person to participate in the service remotely.
Eco Coffins and Cardboard Coffins: As awareness of environmental concerns grows, eco-friendly coffin options, like cardboard coffins, have gained popularity in Australia. These coffins are biodegradable and can align with eco-conscious values.
The medical aspects of dying are a natural part of the human experience, and they play a significant role in shaping the choices individuals and their families make regarding funeral and memorial services. Understanding these medical processes can help ensure that end-of-life care is compassionate and dignified and that funeral and memorial services reflect the wishes and values of the deceased. Whether opting for traditional or non-traditional funeral services, individuals can find solace in knowing that their choices will provide a meaningful way for loved ones to remember and honour the deceased.