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End-of-Life Rally: How to Make The Most of It

end of life rally

For families sitting bedside with a dying loved one, an end-of-life rally can be a surprising twist.

When families know a loved one is approaching end of life, they often expect their loved one to become progressively weaker. They expect their loved one will sleep more, sliding into a non-responsive or semi-conscious state towards the end. For many people, that’s exactly what will happen. Their body will slowly shut down. They’ll no longer want food or water. Their respiration will slow. They may appear asleep or unconscious most of the time.

However, end-of-life journeys aren’t always in a straight line. In some cases, a dying patient may experience an end-of-life rally. Understanding this phenomenon can help families make the most of this precious time.

what is end of life rally

What is an end-of-life rally?

When a patient who has been steadily declining has a sudden burst of energy, this is called an end-of-life rally or terminal lucidity. They may begin speaking or even eating and drinking again. It is important that family members understand that this is not a sign that their loved one is getting better. They still have a terminal illness, and end-of-life rallies tend to be short. Often just a few minutes or hours.

This is why it is important for families to make the most of end-of-life rallies when they occur. It is an opportunity to say all the important things to your loved one including what they mean to you with words of love, forgiveness, or apologies.  

how long will end of life rally last

How long will an end-of-life rally last? 

End-of-life rallies are not fully understood, and no one can predict just how long a rally will last. In rare instances, it can last a week or more, but in most cases it’s a very brief window to connect with your loved one.

Families who understand this can spend that time chatting and making a final connection. If you have to leave when a loved one is experiencing an end-of-life rally, be sure to say anything you need to say before departing as you may not get another chance. Families who don’t recognize the temporary nature of an end-of-life rally are often disappointed to learn that their loved one slipped into unconsciousness or passed away soon after they left the room.

end of life rally what to do

What to Do During an End-of-Life Rally

If possible, stay close to your loved one during an end-of-life rally and ask other loved ones to visit. Whether it lasts a few hours or a few days, you won’t regret spending that time together.

If your loved one wishes to speak during this time, take the time to listen. Just as you may have final words you wish to say, they might have their own story or words to express. Try to listen with compassion and an open heart and mind. Keep the mood positive and don’t get bogged down over past arguments or tensions.

If your loved one has a specific request during this time, you should try to honor it. If they want to speak with a certain person, connect them – even if it means calling them or getting them into a video chat. If your loved one asks for a certain food or drink, try to provide it for them, even though they may only take a couple bites. The important thing to focus on is keeping them comfortable and enjoying your time together.

In some cases, your loved one may report seeing family or friends who have passed away. If these end-of-life visions bring them comfort, don’t try to correct them or argue with them. Instead, try to remain open and inquisitive and be supportive of the comfort these visions offer.

Most importantly, accept the temporary nature of an end-of-life rally and encourage your loved ones to avoid false hope so you can make the most of this time. Your hospice team can help provide education and answer questions about what to expect. An end-of-life rally is an incredible gift, so take advantage of this precious time.

Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides support to terminally ill patients and their families. To learn more about our services, please call 1-888-564-3405. 


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