1. Inspired writer
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    Inspired writer Member

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    How can you describe the emotion of a man on his death bed?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Inspired writer, Feb 2, 2012.

    What kind of characteristics would a dying man portray? Psychologically? The emotional turmoil he must be going through. How can you define that kind of portrayal realisitically? Must a writer have to use their imagination to hopefully succeed effectively? Or is there an easier way to describe?
     
  2. Xatyrn
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    Xatyrn Member

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    Well of course you'll have to use your imagination, right? o.o
    Well, if he's dying from an accident or something of the sort, I'd recommend brusque but vivid details to enhance the stress of the moment. Scenes might whisk through his mind, sort of how thoughts do when you're on the edge of sleep and wakefulness and coming out of a dream. I would recommend not accentuating the cliche "memories from the past" or whatever the brain supposedly throws at you as it shuts down -- make them surreal images that are jumbled, confusing, disoriented, and vaguely related to the story's theme. Descriptions need the right connotation toward the mood you're trying to set. The syntax of this part in a story is vital. Google different forms of syntax if you want ideas. :3
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Observation. Speak with a hospice nurse or a nurse in a cancer ward. He or she can probably tell you a lot about despair and strength, depression and humor, ill temper and placid grace.

    Don't just guess, if you have had no exposure to terminal patients. You'll probably get it horribly wrong.
     
  4. AMA
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    AMA New Member

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    I agree with Cogito. It's really about getting the experience for yourself because not everyone experiences 'dying' the same.

    For example, my uncle was profoundly depressed in a quiet, complacent, determined sort of way. He often whispered sweet nothings of returning to Greece or clasped my hand, sadly, and told me to make the most of life because it could be gone instantly. On the other hand, I've also been alongside those who have been the most content at Death's Door.

    So, really it's a psychological mash of personality, circumstance, experience, and will. If you want the best answer, you're better off seeing in person what happens just before people pass over to the other side. Good luck!
     
  5. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    It really depends on the circumstances - has it been a long illness? Does he want to be released from his pain? A friend of mine told me about her best friend who was dying of cancer - when she heard on the radio that Michael Jackon had died, she said 'why couldn't it be me? I'm ready'. The next day she had gone.

    My mum was at the bedside of a family friend who was in his 90s but had lost his wife a decade earlier. She said his last words were 'I'm coming, Amy. Not long now.' It sounds cliche but it's what people think when they're in that situation.

    But Cogito's advice is very sensible.
     
  6. Xatyrn
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    Xatyrn Member

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    I guess I understand more of what you meant when you asked the question of whether you'd have to use your imagination.
    So I guess I'd go with Cogito's advice...do some research. And yes, it really would depend on his situation.
    Also, my post was written with the idea that you were asking how one would describe the moment his life is fading, if that helps it make more sense. xD
     
  7. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    I just read John Green's A Fault in our Stars. It's a brilliant book that deals beautifully with the topics of long-term illness, dying and death, regardless of the fact that it is a young adult novel. Even other fiction can be good research. Georgia
     
  8. SplashPlane
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    SplashPlane New Member

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    I agree that you should speak with people who are often close to the terminally ill. Do a lot of research, but remember that surely everyone deals with death in his or her own way.

    There is also quite a lot of literature on the subject.. people have been coping with the inevitably of death for a long, long time. The first book I think of is The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, which deals with precisely that situation. Reading about the subject will help you get a feel not only for the psychological implications of death and how people may react, but also for the craft of explaining its details through words.
     
  9. Drusilla
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    Drusilla Active Member

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    I'm experiencing the same troubles right now. I'm trying to write about an old woman dying while talking to a 14 year old boy. Before she dies, she will give him her most precious possession. But she is not sad, angered or anything. She is ready to die in the way that she is ready to walk into the new dimension of eternal sleep. She is calm, and her most important quest, before her death, is to give the boy her possession.
    But I have never experienced death of a close person before. I find it hard to write about something I cannot relate to at all.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It depends on who the person dying is. Is he a very old man who has lived a long, fulfilled life? He may be at peace as he dies. Is he a young man with a young wife and child who depend on him, and he knows he can't be there for them? He may be wracked with guilt and grief as he dies. There are many ways he may deal with dying.
     
  11. jonsnana
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    jonsnana Member

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    I agree with several people already that said to do your research with people that are ill and with those that work frequently with the dying. I would also add that there are some self-help books on grieving that could give you an insight into the emotions that you want to portray. In my own experiences some patients go through many of the stages of grief when approaching their deaths ( in the cases of terminal illnesses ) including denial, anger, and resignation. You haven't stated what the cause of death is for your character and how much time you are going to give him to deal with his upcoming transition from the known life to the unknown one. The character's cultural and faith background that you have created for him will also affect his emotions.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am assuming you are not referring to violent and sudden deaths, which usually happen very quickly and we rarely have the opportunity to hear people's thoughts in the seconds before they die. But if you are referring to slower, known, planned death, from illness or any situation where a person gets to know this is going to happen in the foreseeable future, then the hospice or the hospital is usually the place where this occurs, (or a planned death at home).

    I worked in palliative care for a while and I have seen many people die. The thing that surprised me most is the actual absence of turmoil in the days and hours preceding the event. These days, the most important thing is to relieve the symptoms, so if a person is in pain or agitated, then they are not left to suffer, but they are medicated until they settle and steady doses of medication are delivered subcutaneously, in a continuous manner, to ensure there is no breakthrough pain. Sometimes, people don't settle until they are unconscious, and that is ok, but nobody is sedated for the psychological distress, it's only physical symptoms (pain, breathlessness etc) that need this kind of treatment.
    Actually can remember one instance, a young mother dying of cancer, she was distressed, psychologically, until the end. She was angry and devastated to leave her kids behind, but even she became very peaceful towards the end. But she choose to be sedated because she just couldn't cope with the psychological pain.

    Otherwise, most people go through psychological hell after they are told that their illness is incurable and will led to the inevitable, but that usually goes away when death is only days away. If a person is comfortable and awake, there is something, a kind of serenity, that comes over them as they realise that death is impending. Also, people start looking more pale, ashen, their skin gets a waxy appearance, which indicates they will pass away in the next few days. This is how the staff can usually tell, inform the relatives who want to travel to say their goodbyes etc. Still, sudden event can happen in that situation ( a massive bleed, blood clot etc) so some relatives don't get the chance to say goodbye, but most of the time it is not that dramatic.

    So, most of the time, people became very philosophical, peaceful (in the absence of pain, of course). Vast majority of them are not scared. The people who are often in turmoil at that time are their loved ones, and men take it especially hard, when their wives are passing away.

    Other than that, there are bodily changes that are indicative of a person entering terminal stages, such as loss of consciousness, paradoxical breathing, very slow breathing and very rattly, noisy breathing called "terminal rattle". This does not bother the patient (their heart rate remains slow and there are no other signs of distress). This happens as the lungs get choked up with fluid, as the organs shut down, one by one. When a person passes away naturally, usually their family is with them, or a nurse is, and they enter the final stages by becoming unconscious, breathing slows right down, sometimes breaths can be a minute or more apart, and eventually they stop breathing.
    Death is confirmed by checking there is no pulse, or breath sounds, and that both pupils are fixed and dilated.

    It is a predictable sequence of events, it is always sad for everyone involved, but it is, in my opinion, an inspiring demonstration of nature, that people are not in turmoil that we, the living, imagine them to be. There is a definite divide between life and death, and the sense that a dying person is embarking on a journey, an adventure.

    It's a very strange thing to witness, and like posters above said, it is impossible to "imagine" how it feels unless you see it first hand.
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Slow death that is expected is not the same as sudden death after an accident or something. The person has several months, maybe years, to come to terms with things and put their affairs in order.
    Over the last 30 years, I have been present when my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, and cousin died. My cousin died in a hospice of cancer, the others at home. They were all surrounded by family (there must have been at least 15 of us in the house, if not actually in the room with them at the moment of death.) My uncle's last words were "this is all really a great adventure." They had all led wonderful (and I suppose very privileged) lives, and knew they were loved. They were not in any evident turmoil, they looked very peaceful and happy. I don't remember any dramatic change in them, death rattles etc. They just gradually slipped away. Apparently, as the body shuts down, certain hormones or something are released which produces a kind of euphoria. I expect you can research this.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    and read successful books [both fiction and non] where one of the characters is dying, to see how the best writers get it across to their readers...
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The death of Mrs Morel in DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers is the best example I have ever seen of describing a death of a loved one in a novel--and it was written after his mother died. A lot of it (when I looked at the passage a minute ago) actually reminded me strongly of when my grandmother died. I'd forgotten how my grandmother asked us if we could maybe give her something to just put her in a long sleep (my uncles were all doctors) because she was getting tired toward the end. It was kind of like having a baby for her--I remember my aunt (a midwife) saying to her "just a little more, you can do it" and then turning to us totally shocked, but that was how it felt...
     
  16. krtr
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    krtr Member

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    Denial. Anger. Acceptance.
     
  17. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Kallithrix, it depends on the circumstances. If he's young and is dying from sickness he would feel in a different way than if he's old and all his family and close ones are already gone, he might see it as a liberation, some kind of relief. It also depends on what kind of life he has atm, and what his philosophy of life it like, if he's religious etc etc.
     
  18. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    We learned that they have a pattern if they have long enough to go.
    First comes denial
    Second comes anger
    Then they attempt to bargain
    Fallowed by depression
    And at last they accept it
    ( then your paper work begins)

    Depending on how quick it is they can go through this. Sometimes it gets cut of by them dying. Different people also go through the phases faster than others. It’s not uncommon that the soon to be dead person takes it better than those around them.
    I have more experience on the emergency end, but even this happens sometimes. Think of a subway crush victim, the pressure of the train against their organs keeps their blood running for awhile.
     
  19. leadbelly
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    leadbelly New Member

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    There are several movies you could use as reference too (if you're more visual)...

    Dying Young, Beaches (don't laugh), Terms of Endearment, Philadelphia, My Life & Life as a House could all be good, though depressing, tools to use for research. They all bring to light different elements of terminal illnesses -- romance, great but rocky friendships, family, injustice, self-discovery and um, more family (in order of movies listed).
     
  20. fb.
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    Speaking to someone who has worked in palliative care is an excellent idea. The Guardian ran a story on the top five regrets of the dying, as reported by a nurse. As well as being thought-provoking stuff, it's the kind of insight you are unlikely to have yourself.

    Of course, depending on the story, you might want to use your imagination more than research. You might want to write about a character whose response is anything but typical. Instead of denial/anger/bargain, etc., he might start with calm acceptance and then get a sort of unexpected cold terror as the end approaches. But in that case, research would at least allow you to write with your eyes open, and know exactly how your character differs from the norm. What you don't want is for your doctor and nurse characters to be saying things about grief that are factually inaccurate, or treating a completely atypical response as if it were normal.
     
  21. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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  22. Inspired writer
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    Inspired writer Member

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    Thanks Kallithrix, that article helped alot. I may have a good angle now. It'll definately cover the emotional pov.
    Cheers.
     

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