One Thing That all PSW’s Dread: Death and Dying

This isn’t going to be a pleasant topic to write about.

I don’t want to say that this is something I am immune to as I deal with it more often than I’d like, but it’s an occurrence that will happen at some point in all of our lives.

We can’t avoid it. We can’t run from it.  

And the older we get, there’s more of a chance of it happening.



Are you scared of dead bodies?

Other than being all dressed up at a funeral home, have you seen a dead body?

When you work in Long-term care, your odds of experiencing this is pretty good.

What do you do when you come into work, ready to start your morning routine only to walk into a room and find your resident dead in their bed?

Apart from being scared to the bone, you may have many questions such as:

  • Who do you inform and what is the procedure afterwards?
  • What if someone dies while you’re with them?
  • What happens to the body?
  • Do they smell?

During my 4 year career as a Personal Support Worker I have experienced all of the above. I promise, it’s not scary.


Experience of a PSW with a dying resident. He was palliative by the time I had started working there.

I didn’t know him for long.

But I will never forget the small amount of time that we spent together, especially on this day.

I had been working at my facility for a little over 1 month when I was assisting a co-worker in giving this fragile soul a bed bath.

It had gotten to the point where he was too weak to make it into the shower room.

He was petite, frail and very quiet.

We noticed his breaths were slowing and becoming further apart. His toes and fingers were slowly starting to fade to a very pale white. The very tips were blue.

He was going.

He was going to die in the middle of a bed bath and I had no idea what to do.

  • Do we stop giving him a bath?
  • Do we try to resuscitate him if he stops breathing?

Before anything else, we called the nurse. Based on what we had told her and what was in his care plan, there was nothing that could be done other than to make sure he died in comfort and with dignity.

Every resident’s care-plan is different.

It depends on their level of care and what they or their power of attorneys have decided what they want done.

In this case, this gentleman’s care plan stated that when it was time to go it was time to go. There would be no trip to the ER and no resuscitation.


We continued to wash him and clean him up as best we could before rigor mortis set in. When this happens, usually 3-4 hours after death, the body becomes extremely stiff and difficult to move. Also, don’t be surprised if you hear sounds.


It’s not uncommon for a person to pass gas or even a bowel movement once they’ve passed. It’s the bodies way of cleaning out itself.

He’s dressed. He’s clean. And he’s dead.

Even though I didn’t know him for long, an overwhelming sadness crept over me almost right away. It was a very strange feeling. I wasn’t scared – what can someone do to you once they’ve passed?

Nothing – I was just sad. His body was there but that was all. Resting in his bed.


The family was notified the minute we told our nurse what was going on. The family gets notified as soon as possible when it is regarding a resident. It is then up to them to decide if they want to come in or not.

Most do.

Most make it in time to say their final goodbyes where others miss their chance.

Once the body is pronounced dead by a doctor it can be transferred to the funeral home. Not before then.

Even though we know he has passed, the documentation needs to be there.

Everything is documented from the moment we notified the nurse to what was happening and what was being done.

I miss a lot of residents.

In my 4 years I’ve known at-least 15 people who have passed on. Some I worked with closely, others I seldom knew. Only once has someone died while in my presence, and even though I wouldn’t want to witness that again, I know it’s something that could occur at any time.

This is the job. Death is a large part of it. You can’t avoid it.

All you can do it accept it.


If you found this article useful, please share it.

Share your love

Avlin is passionate about helping aspirants become better personal support workers. He is an entrepreneur and runs a clinic in Toronto.

Articles: 226


  1. I’ve been a PSW working in our local hospital for 2 years now. Currently I am on the Palliative floor and I have seen my fair share of patients who have died. I find it very rewarding to be there for a persons last breath. Some Patients you get to know very well and their passing does take its tole, and others come to our floor and are gone within the hour. Yes you will see death and dying, but I’m here to tell you, its all part of life that you need to get use to in this job and at the end of the day, you know that you were there for a patient and equally important their families…. what you do makes a big difference for both.

    • You are absolutely right Steven.
      A PSW plays a major role for the patient and equally for the families. Ensuring your patient passes away comfortably is always satisfying for you and more so for the family.
      Thank you Steven for playing such an important role!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *