Preparing For The Passing Of A Loved One
Preparing for the passing of a loved one may start the moment they receive a terminal diagnosis. In some cases, preparing for a person’s death takes place as the result of a sudden accident, unplanned accident, or as the reality sinks in that the end is near due to old age or the slow progression of a chronic condition. Whatever the case, setting the sacred tone for the passing of a loved one occurs in two parts.The first part is dedicated to honoring a dying loved one’s comfort, ease, and well-being to the best of your ability. The second part is the self-care you practice as you give yourself and others the time needed to feel and express emotions and to feel nourished and rested for the days, weeks, or months ahead.
Preparing For A Loved One’s DeathIf someone you love has received a terminal prognosis, is ceasing treatment for a terminal illness, or you notice a senior’s life force is waning, it’s time to begin preparing for their death. No timeline is guaranteed, so the sooner and the better you set the right actions in motion now, the easier and more stress-free their actual passing will be.
Part One: Planning For End-Of-Life Comfort And Well-BeingYour loved one’s comfort and well-being as they near their end of life is the first priority. We recommend reviewing Questions to Ask to Prepare Your End-of-Life Plan. The questions and queries cover five separate domains that are the centerpiece of end-of-life care: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, and Practical. Going over each of these and learning what would make your loved one feel most comfortable and at ease brings incredible peace of mind.
Know that you (and they) are not aloneFirst and foremost, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Both hospice and palliative care agencies are dedicated to supporting your loved one’s passing, bringing everything you need into your home or the hospital, acute care, assisted living, or another place of residence. Even if it feels like death is far down the road, connecting with hospice care agencies now means you’ll know exactly who to contact when you’re ready for the many services they offer. Much of the support you’ll need is impossible to provide without compassionate and experienced outside support.
Accept help from othersYour local hospice agency of choice is the first line of resource assistance, and all of their services are 100% covered by Medicare. Through hospice, your loved one and the immediate family and caregiving team reap many benefits including:
- Regular home visits from hospice nurses, aides, and physicians
- Support with hygiene care, bed changing, etc.
- Delivery of durable medical equipment as needed
- Refills and delivery of prescription medications
- Spiritual guidance/counseling/support
- Grief support
- Volunteer support to accommodate your most pressing need(s), including respite care so spouse or family caregivers can have a few hours off each week
Create a personalized comfort space during the passing of a loved onePart of comprehensive end-of-life planning is letting others know what you want around you as you grow closer to death and are unable to communicate with the outside world. Whether your loved one is at home or in a hospital/acute care bed, there are many things you can do to provide a sacred, peaceful, and calm space for them to be in. Think about:
- Photos of immediate loved ones and closest friends
- Pictures or artwork that include their favorite places, vacation spots, memorable moments, hobbies, and other interests
- A live plant (be careful about cut flowers which need to be replaced and could have scents that aren’t pleasant or trigger allergies for your loved one)
- Music playlist of their favorite songs, including soothing options if they seem restless. If they love the outdoors, you might look for natural sounds that reflect the geography (birds of the forest, rainforest sounds, ocean waves, etc.)
- Essential oils in a diffuser (used lightly and only if they are scents the person finds calming)
- Bedding, blankets, PJs, socks, etc., that are lightweight and very soft.
- Candles (electric/battery options are best to minimize fire risk) and dim lighting
Be present and listenAs the end grows near, the body requires less and less, and most people go inward. When your loved one begins to refuse food and water, don’t panic. This is absolutely normal and best for them. The body refuses food and loses its appetite because its digestive and elimination functions shut down. We highly recommend reading hospice.org’s amazing brochure The Dying Process, paying particular attention to the sections, “The last months of life,” and, “The final days and hours.” At this point, all you need to do is listen to your loved one’s requests and honor them. They know what they need and the gift of quiet, respectful, presence is invaluable at that point. Also, remember that there is no need to be strong. In fact, pretending to be strong blocks the emotional flow that supports a more peaceful and easy passing. It’s okay to cry, say “I love you,” “I will miss you,” “I forgive you for…,” “I thank you for…,” “I’ll always remember you as…” These honest testaments are key to the mental and emotional reckonings that are a normal part of the death and dying landscape.
Create a healing, honoring, and caring ritualWe recommend speaking to your loved one as well as immediate family and friends about the potential for creating a healing, honoring, and caring ritual after your loved one has passed and before their body is cared for by the chosen funeral home. This may include washing the body and dressing them in their chosen outfit. It may be holding a vigil for hours or days. It could be as simple as lighting a candle, wishing them well on their journey, and playing their favorite song, or simply being silent for as long as you need before the body is taken. Do not call anyone to take the body away until you and everyone else feel ready. It is a common misnomer that professionals need to whisk in and take the body to the mortuary. It’s more important that you are able to come to terms with the reality of the passing of a loved one and that their spirit or life force has left the body before anything needs to happen.
Part Two: Taking Care Of Your NeedsYour physical and emotional wellbeing is also important so you can be as present as possible with the one who is dying. Make sure to:
- Honor the enormity of this event and take the time you need to feel and express your feelings
- Eat nourishing foods and snacks, and get the rest you need
- Seek grief support as needed
- Take advantage of others’ offers to help and tell them what you need
- Resist the urge to “keep busy.” Instead, take deep breaths, keep centered in your body, and be present with the one you love so you are attuned to their needs
- Know your limits and honor your personal boundaries – feel free to say, “no,” to prevent resentment, overwhelm, or anger.