Chapter 6: As death nears

How long?

As the weeks went by, I wondered how long she could keep fighting. They sent her home to die – that was weeks, months earlier.

As an illness progresses, it’s hard to predict how long someone will live because each person’s situation is different. A common guideline relates to how quickly someone’s condition is declining, often called the momentum of change.

Momentum of change

If someone’s condition declines significantly from month to month, this may indicate that the person has months left to live; if such changes happen from one week to another, it may mean there are only weeks of life left; if significant changes happen from one day to another or from hour to hour, then there may be days or hours left. 

Those who are spending a lot of time with someone in advanced stages of illness usually have a good sense of when things are changing, even when the changes are subtle. These are usually accurate instincts; the momentum of change is a general guideline only. It is important to be aware that sometimes a complication develops, resulting in a more rapid decline than expected. With this in mind, it may be helpful to address goals or tasks that must be accomplished while the person who is ill is still able to do them.