Programs at Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Preparing for the Loss of a Loved One

Intellectually, we all know it: No one lives forever. But each of us has a special person — a parent, a spouse, a lifelong friend — who we can’t imagine passing out of our lives.

No one is ever completely prepared for the grief of losing someone who is so deeply loved. But there are things you can do to help yourself and your loved one such that when the time comes, you can handle the situation gracefully.

None of this will be easy. Understand, however, that your greatest regrets will come from questions left unanswered and things left unsaid. When you overcome your fear and approach the possibility of death calmly and honestly, it’s easier to remember your loved one with only joy and gratitude.

Having the difficult conversations

Avoid making the common mistake of marginalizing a dying person or trying to protect his or her feelings by avoiding topics like living wills, health care power of attorney or funeral arrangements. All of these are tremendously important considerations, and it’s vital to know what your loved one wants. The sooner you have these discussions, the easier it will be for everyone involved.

Make sure that legal documents are in place and easy to find. The dying person should have a Directive to Physicians (the new name for a living will) clearly stating what kind of care he or she will and will not accept. Your loved one will also need to choose a person to make proxy health care decisions, if that becomes necessary, and memorialize that choice in a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

Talk with your special person about hospice care. He or she might not want to endure trips to the hospital emergency room during the last few weeks of his or her life. Good hospice care can allow your loved one to pass away peacefully at home and in the company of family and friends. And as difficult as it may be, talk about funeral arrangements. Be sure to include other family members in the conversation to avoid disagreements later.

Dealing with anticipatory grief

Your grieving process begins long before your loved one leaves this earth. You’ll probably experience rushes of different emotions — anger, joy, fear, hope or sadness. And each of these can strike you at unexpected moments. It’s crucial that you don’t try to hide or bottle up your feelings. Cry if you want to. Share your feelings with other family members. And if you are able, start seeing a counselor early. Your counselor will help you handle your feelings in the now and prepare you for continuing life without your loved one in the future.

Talk about death with the dying person. If he or she has any fears, you may be able to help. Keep in mind that it’s very common for a dying person to cling to life out of concern for those being left behind, even when that life has become extremely painful. Reassuring him or her that everyone will be OK and releasing your loved one from worry is a tremendous gift of love you can offer.

It’s especially important to let the dying person know just how much you love them. Share some happy memories together. Thank them for the support given to you over the years. Do a little gut check, and make sure you haven’t let anything important go unsaid — ask for forgiveness if you need to, and give forgiveness freely.

You may find it helpful to create a scrapbook of photos, souvenirs and memories. Ask your special person to remind you of that one favorite recipe or retell and record a few stories. Making this kind of collection is a nice way to spend time together, and it will be a valuable legacy to you later.

Remember to care for yourself

Finally, spend a little time and effort on self care. The dying process will sometimes feel draining and exhausting for you. Give yourself some time away, and don’t forget the other aspects of your life. Take your children to the zoo, go for a short walk in the park — and don’t feel guilty about doing so! These small breaks will provide you with the energy and focus you need to support the dying person throughout his or her journey.

Even though you know death is inevitable, losing someone you love can be heart-wrenching and tragic. But with some thoughtful preparation and a lot of love, you can navigate this painful time gracefully, and step into the future grateful for the time you’ve had together.

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