Grief Resources

Stages of Death Family Resource

Early Stage

What You Will See

A decrease in appetite, both eating and drinking that can last for a few days or weeks. Eating may become more of a burden than a pleasure. There may be frequent choking on fluids.

What Is Happening to the Body

As death approaches, the body begins to conserve energy and requires less nourishment. There is no hunger or suffering during this process. IV fluids or artificial feeding does not promote comfort or prevent death.

Mid-Stage

What You Will See

Changes in physical appearance that may last a few hours or days. The person becomes less responsive to other people and their surroundings. Eventually, the person is unable to speak or move. This usually occurs during the last few days of life.

What Is Happening to the Body

The circulation is slowing down and the blood is being reserved for the major body organs. The person is preparing for release and detaching from relationships and surroundings. This is a physical and spiritual response to the dying process.

Late Stage

What You Will See

  • Intermittent disorientation and restlessness may occur in most patients, and it may increase in the last few days.
  • You will notice a gradual decrease in urine output, or  the urine may appear very dark. Bowel movements may stop altogether or there may be a loss of bowel control.
  • Breathing becomes irregular. The person’s breath may be shallow with long pauses between breaths. The duration between breaths is more frequent with greater pauses between as death approaches.
  • Congestion in the lungs will increase and a rattle in the throat may be heard during the last few hours. Noisy breathing does not necessarily mean discomfort.

What Is Happening to the Body

These changes are due, in part, to the changes occurring in the person’s metabolism.

  • As the circulation decreases, kidney and bowel function may be reduced. Muscles may relax, including the muscles responsible for bowel control.
  • Circulation to the internal organs decreases, especially the heart and lungs.
  • Throat muscles begin to relax and the lungs lose their ability to clear fluids.