This Is Us

How to Support Your Dying Loved One

I watched my husband go through different stages. Here’s what to expect.

Heather McLeod
Published in
11 min readNov 4, 2020


Our display at my husband’s memorial service.

They told us my husband’s cancer was terminal: He had months to live. Maybe as long as a year. From that moment in the doctor’s office, we waited for death.

One day, Brock napped for an extra hour. Was this the end?

He woke up with a cough. Was this it?

With both of us in our late thirties, we had never witnessed death up close. On television, we watched Steve Jobs and Jack Layton (a Canadian politician) become skeletal as their cancers progressed.

“Will that happen to me?” Brock asked. We didn’t know. I patted his healthy tummy, assuring us both we weren’t in that final stretch, yet.

I read the books, found a spouses’ support group, and was matched with a hospice counselor. We met with Brock’s palliative care doctor and chatted with the home care nurses. We were surrounded by supportive experts.

And yet, I felt very alone.

In that final year, Brock slept or was sleepy much of the time. Eventually, he was not capable of making decisions. It was up to me to decide when to call for help, and when to let a new symptom play out. If it was after clinic hours, I had to figure out whether our questions and concerns justified calling an after-hours emergency line, or even texting our doctors’ home numbers.

One evening, after many months of this anxiety and uncertainty, Brock was suddenly unable to swallow or communicate. It was 11:30 p.m.

First thing the next morning, I texted an update to our palliative care doctor and she told me this was the end. After living with stage four kidney cancer for three years, my husband was dying. Of all the emotions I could feel at hearing this, I felt relief. I was relieved because, while this was the moment we’d feared and dreaded, at least we knew what was happening. Finally, there was certainty.

There are books, hospice resources, and palliative care pamphlets that describe the common stages of death. Here is our own experience with those stages, shared with the hope that hearing our story will alleviate your own…



Heather McLeod
Human Parts

Writing about losing my young husband to cancer, grief, widowhood & this new, Plan B life.