Breathe Last: What You Need to Know About the Death Rattle

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A dying loved one show many symptoms as death nears. Perhaps the most noticeable are the changes in breathing patterns. To some, they experience shortness of breath, while others experience shallow or irregular breathing. Still, there are those whose breaths create different sounds — most people call it the death rattle, and yes, it does signal the approaching end of life.

Why Death Rattle Occurs

The rattling sound happens due to the inability of the patient to get rid of secretions, like saliva or phlegm, from the back of the throat. An average person can do that with ease, without much thought even, but for dying people, they simply have no strength to do it.

The sound differs from time to time. Sometimes, it’s crackling, which grows louder as the person inhales and exhales. Other times, it sounds like a snore. Then there are also instances when it’s just a soft groan. Although these are unpleasant noises, they don’t cause pain to the patient. Still, there are ways to reduce such sounds and make the dying loved one more comfortable.

You can change the resting position of the patient, turning them on their side. Elevate the head, so the build-up of secretions can easily drain. Nurses sometimes use suctions to remove the fluid directly. Then, there are also those physicians (for instance) who provide Indiana hospice care services and administer certain drugs that can help dry the secretions. If your loved one is under palliative care, discuss with the medical team the possibility of using such medications and equipment.

How to Cope

woman griefing and mourning

The death rattle is a constant reminder of the end of life. This can trigger many strong negative emotions on you, as you grapple with the reality of the impending death and tie loose ends with your loved one before it’s too late. This can all be overwhelming, so take one step at a time.

Focus on your mental-emotional health first. Grieve, if you must. It may feel like you don’t have the right yet to mourn because there’s no death yet, but this is still a loss. The suffering your loved one experiences is still a tragedy in your life, so allow yourself to mourn.

It’s better if you can express your pain to someone, so they could check up on you every now and then. Find a spiritual counselor, like a pastor or a priest. You can also join a grief support group. Being in a community of fellow sufferers can help in bringing comfort that you’re not alone in your struggle. Most hospices provide such groups, and they often have several programs designed for different types of grief.

As for your relationship with your loved one, take advantage of this time to say goodbye. This means asking for forgiveness, dispensing forgiveness yourself, telling them that you love them, etc. Dying patients often feel that they have unfinished business, especially in their relationships, so saying these things as you tell them goodbye can help in reassuring them and giving them peace as they rest.

It’s not easy to see life gradually being taken away from your loved one. With every breath they take, you fear that it will be their last. Get help from doctors and counselors. Draw strength from your loved ones.

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