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Deathbed etiquette guide to help families prepare for loved ones' final moments

By Jemma Crew, PA Health and Science Correspondent

A guide for deathbed etiquette is being launched to help people prepare for the final moments of their loved ones' lives.

Experts from The Art Of Dying Well, a support site set up by St Mary's University, London, hope the tips will help people support their dying relatives and friends with confidence.

Advice includes reassuring your relative or friend that they are "free to let go", being prepared in case they die while you are out of the room, and not being afraid if they talk about dead relatives "coming to meet them".

People are also warned that their loved one may sleep a lot during their last days and that their breathing may stop and start as they near death.

Margaret Doherty, director of The Art Of Dying Well, told PA: "It's really to help families and friends who arrive at the hospital, hospice or loved one's home and aren't quite sure what to do or what to say. And, in a sense, that's all of us, when we are confronted with death for the first time."

She added: "I think that more and more people are talking about death and dying, whether that's as part of the national conversation or it's been given a reboot through social media, and I think the more we talk about it, the more it will help people.

"Dame Cicely Saunders, who was the founder of the modern hospice movement, said that how a person dies lives on in the memories of those who come afterwards, and I think that's incredibly important because obviously people are living to a longer age so it's often not till midway through life that we sit alongside somebody as they die, so to get people ready for that can only but help."

The guide, launched on Thursday, was designed by hospice workers, palliative care experts, nurses, chaplains and bereaved families.

It comes as a poll by the university found that one in 10 people feels "totally unprepared" to sit by a loved one's bedside as they die.

They surveyed more than 2,000 people across the UK and found that older people said they felt better equipped to cope with death than the younger generations.

Almost a quarter of respondents over 55 said they were "totally prepared", compared with 12% of people aged 18-34.

Jo Elverson, a consultant in palliative medicine at St Oswald's Hospice in Newcastle upon Tyne, said those closest to the patient should follow their instincts.

She said: "Sometimes, they need confidence, permission if you like, to do what they believe is the right thing."

She also recalled how a 17-year-old boy dying of cancer was becoming breathless and distressed because he was aware of his father's upset.

She said she asked the man to reassure his son, adding: "Dad was able to say 'I'm going to be all right. I've got your mum, I've got your sister. I'm going to be OK.'

"And this did more than any medicine for his son so he was able to relax and rest. He died the next day."

Amy Gadoud, a palliative care consultant at Trinity Hospice in Blackpool, said she hopes the guide will increase trust in doctors and nurses.

She said families of patients close to the end of their lives sometimes cannot accept their imminent death and ask medical staff to try to prolong their life with further treatment.

She said: "We need to communicate that dying is not a clinical event. It is a normal event in someone's life."

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