Arranging support when someone is dying 

News & Updates | December 15, 2023 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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Heather Spence is mother of two young men, a caregiver to both sides of her family and a nurse who specializes in emotional support and companion care. In addition to her regular nursing work, Heather helps families and patients prepare for and navigate the end-of-life experience. 

“I’ve been passionate about death and the dying experience for as long as I can remember. Something overcomes me; I feel connected, natural and I just suggest and guide. It’s second nature. I feel connected to the person who I am there for and I am able to facilitate their needs and the needs of the family.” 

When Heather is hired and invited to assist a family, she receives a history and update on what’s happening to understand the specific situation. She is able to assist with all the traditional nursing duties, but her craft is in identifying the patient’s needs and helping facilitate them. 

“Once I have the background information, I look for the dynamics and get a feel for the family and patient. This can include adjusting the room settings by dimming the lights or giving the person a better view of the garden, or identifying someone who is not coping well and needs a change of scenery. Sometimes, just drying the dishes while talking about what’s happening is very comforting to a family member. I try to relate to them and meet them where they are at.” 

Heather has shared medical assistance in dying (MAID) deaths with clients and has noted that they are different from natural deaths where the time of death is unpredictable. Heather feels an unconscious countdown, to maximize every moment before the time of the MAID provision. 

“Whatever the patient or family wants, you make it the best you can and follow their lead. I also remind the loved ones to take care of themselves. It’s a very emotional time.” 

Asking for and arranging support when someone is dying is not a common practice. This is in part due to the fact that there is a fear of death and as a result we don’t talk about it, think about it or plan for it. When someone is near their end of life, it is a tough time for everyone. Being a caregiver is a very special role, but it is also exhausting both emotionally and physically, and sometimes we need help. 

You can learn more about Heather and her nursing and companion care services here

Visit Dying With Dignity Canada’s local directory lists on our website for information about other supports in your region.

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