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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of dying at home

This page has links to information in other languages.


Dying is different for every person and for every whānau (family). It is important to do whatever feels right during this time.

In our multicultural society, there are differing traditions surrounding death. Here is some practical advice for the time leading up to death and the time immediately afterwards so you can be prepared.

If you are a Māori whānau caring for a loved one at home, a website called Te Ipu Aronui has been created to support you.

Before death occurs

When someone has an advanced illness, death usually comes gradually and is peaceful in most cases. You can read about some of the main changes that may occur as a person nears the end of their life in Understanding the dying process.

It is not possible to predict the actual time of death, but doctors and nurses can often give you an idea of when your loved one is getting near. It is important that the person's GP is aware of the deterioration because they will need to come afterwards and complete a death certificate. The palliative care service does not complete death certificates.

Your district nurse is best placed to ring the GP, or you can ring yourself. If a weekend or public holiday is approaching, it is particularly important that you know who to contact and have the correct phone number available.

People often want to make plans for the funeral or memorial service ahead of time. See Planning a funeral or memorial for information about this.

Help and support

This can be an exhausting time, so look after yourself and accept offers of help. It can make a huge difference if others can do simple things like washing a bag of laundry, preparing an evening meal or collecting a prescription from the pharmacy.

You can read more advice about looking after yourself in Looking after yourself when caring for someone who is dying.

Despite good planning, things can sometimes happen unexpectedly, and you might need to seek urgent help from your district nurse.

If you were to ring an ambulance during the dying period, the paramedics might not need to transport the person to hospital. They might be present with you at the time of death and able to support you and help you contact your nurse or general practice team.

Knowing when someone has died

The death process can be both sudden and gentle. You will probably know instinctively that the person is no longer alive. Some things to look for and be aware of are:

It is very helpful if you note the approximate time of death.

What to do after the death

It is important to do things in your own time. Take as much time as you need to say your goodbyes.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Understanding the dying process

Written by Te Whatu Ora Waitaha Canterbury end of life care and bereavement group and Nurse Maude Hospice. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created August 2022.


Page reference: 1037941

Review key: HIWSD-76097