How to Prepare for the Death of a Loved One

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When a loved one is nearing the end of their life, it can be an extremely difficult time for them and everyone who cares about them. You’ll likely be feeling sad, anxious, and extremely uncomfortable just thinking about their death. However, understanding what to expect and knowing how to prepare for death means you’ll be able to handle a loved one’s final days much better.

Confronting the reality that a loved one is dying is the first step you can take to support them. There are a number of things you can do that may give you and the person you love peace of mind. Understanding the physical illness or injury that is occurring is a helpful step in the process.

Spend time with your loved one

A valuable gift you can give your loved one is your presence. One of the most fundamental things to do when preparing yourself for the death of a loved one is spending time with them, especially as their health deteriorates. If they’ve got the energy, talk to them, let them know they’re not alone, and above all be honest.

If you’re feeling scared, confused, or sad, don’t be afraid to hide these emotions. You don’t have to be strong. It’s OK to let them know your vulnerabilities.

You might find it an uncomfortable situation to be in, but don’t let this prevent you from saying how you feel. Telling them you love them and will miss them when they’re gone. If you don’t say these things now, you may not find a better time.

Your presence communicates a willingness to walk the path alongside your loved one, and help them face the physical and emotional challenges of death. However, if they request alone time, give them this.

There may be things you wanted to tell them for many years, and you can use this time to let them know. However, it’s worth considering the effect of what you’ve got to say will have on them, because some things might be best kept under your hat.

When you’re preparing for a death, there are things you can say that could provide comfort. Perhaps they’d like to know what you or your children’s plans are for the future.

You’re going to cherish these moments forever, and they’ll help you in difficult times of grief.

Let close family and friends know about their condition

Make sure everyone in the family knows that your loved one is expected to be passing soon. This gives them time to say their goodbyes. It also means they don’t feel left out or that you’re hiding the truth from them.

It’s important not to leave children out either, especially if you’re preparing children for the death of a parent. They should be allowed to visit the loved one after you’ve explained what is going to happen. When speaking to children about death, always respect their dignity and be clear in what you’re saying.

All too often, adults try to gloss over the realities of the situation. Children are more understanding than we give them credit for and can usually cope better with life’s realities. All too often, children have the insights that soothe or calm the adults.

If there are family members that live far away, remember to keep them posted on the health of your loved one. You can communicate via email, text, telephone, or a social networking site. During times of loss, family relationships are put under a great deal of strain. It can be beneficial when people pull together when preparing for the death of a loved one.

You might not want to talk about it but remember the loss is going to affect everyone. Staying connected is of the utmost importance. Otherwise, family members may start to drift away.

Allow yourself to feel anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is normal, especially when people are preparing for the death of a parent. Grief after death is something most people are familiar with, but anticipatory grief is often not discussed. As such, some people find it socially unacceptable to express pain before the person has passed.

People deal with grief in different ways, and while anticipatory grief may be different from grief after a death, it is still an essential part of the grieving process.

Not everyone experiences anticipatory grief when preparing for the death of a loved one, and it is not good or bad to do so. It’s not a substitute or even a head-start on the grieving process, but it does provide opportunities for closure that people who lose loved ones suddenly never have.

Research their condition and ask for palliative care if needed

You will be better equipped to help your loved one face the challenges of dying if you know more about their physical condition and what to expect as they deteriorate. There may also be physical considerations, such as exercise they can and cannot do, or foods that they can and cannot eat.

Consult medical reference books at your local library, request information from educational associations, and with your loved one’s consent, you might also talk to their doctor, nurse, or carer.

Educating yourself about the condition means you can be a more understanding listener when your loved one wants to talk about their experiences. You’ll also be more prepared yourself for the last stages of the illness.

Speak to the person directly and ask whether you can do anything to make things easier for them. It’s natural to want to provide the best care and best possible quality of life for them. Your loved one may need help with some daily activities. Preparing food, cleaning, doing laundry, or being driven to and from the hospital for treatment are just a few of the practical ways you can demonstrate your love for them.

Talk with them about death

It might seem like an insensitive thing to do, but they may find it helpful, especially if they are scared. Conversations about mortality and whether they have prepared for their own death are challenging, but you can help them come to terms with their fears.

Follow their lead, as their coping style may be different from yours. Some people cope by avoiding focusing on death, while others want to discuss the process and all their fears. Support your loved one in whatever way they want to cope. Allow them to talk at their own pace and ensure they’re aware that you’re willing to listen non-judgmentally.

There might be something they want to do. If they’re able, why not get out there and help them do it? Help them live for today so that you can remember it tomorrow.

Discuss family assets

Inheritance is a subject that’s too important to be left until someone has died. It’s a topic families should raise when a person is still alive and you’re preparing for death in the UK.

Family assets can include lots of things and not just finances. For example, it might consist of property and personal items. Talk about who their lawyer, financial adviser, or asset manager is. It’s also important to know their banking information and account numbers.

In a partnership, it’s common for one partner to handle all these things. The other person may know the generalities of the information, but not where everything is.

Discussions about family assets reduce the risk of family feuding over funeral arrangements and provide clarity concerning the wishes and plans of a loved one.

Ask them about their funeral wishes

Having ‘that chat’ about someone’s funeral wishes is a difficult conversation to have. That being said, talking about funeral wishes makes everything more straightforward once they have passed away.

If you can, find out what they want in terms of a funeral. Are there any arrangements already in place, such as a funeral plan? Show them that you want to consider their wishes and ensure the funeral is personal to them.

Learn about the signs of imminent death

As death approaches, your loved one might seem different from their usual self. Each person is unique, but knowing what to expect will help when preparing for an approaching death and dealing with what’s to come.

As a person nears death, many of their senses will deteriorate.

Signs a body is preparing for death include:

  • Less fluid and food intake: There is usually little interest in eating and drinking. Allow them to eat and drink whatever is appetising to them, but any nourishment should be taken slowly and in small amounts.
  • Discolouration of their skin
  • Disorientation: They may often seem confused about time, place, and identity of the people around them. Identify yourself rather than asking them to guess who you are.
  • Restlessness: You may also see them make repetitive motions such as pulling at sheets or having visions of people who aren’t there. Don’t be alarmed or try to restrain such motions.
  • Becoming socially withdrawn: They may want to be alone with just one person or with very few people. Their speech may become slow or difficult to understand.
  • Spending a lot of time sleeping: This is normal and is due to changes in the metabolism of the body. Sit with them, hold their hand, speak softly and naturally.
  • Urine decrease: This is often the result of a decrease in fluid intake.
  • Incontinence: They may lose control of their bowels as the muscles in that area begin to relax.
  • Changes in breathing patterns: Their breathing may become shallow, irregular, abnormally slow, or fast. Changed breathing patterns are very common for someone nearing death.

These are all a natural part of the body preparing to shut down, and it’s important to be alert to these signs so that you can contact friends and family in good time.

A person who is on the verge of death may feel compelled to hold on to life, feeling they have a duty to the living. Give them your permission to go so that holding on doesn’t prolong their pain any further.

Preparing for their death and funeral

Some practicalities need to be dealt with when someone is close to death. You might also want to care for them, but if their needs are too complex or too burdensome, you may need to consider a hospice or palliative care program.

Your loved one may also have some unfinished business they need to address. For example, an advance directive guides the end-of-life care that they do or don’t want to receive. Living wills and durable powers of attorney are other options. Even the act of discussing such matters can be a good thing for you and your loved one. Preparing paperwork in advance can help your loved ones to feel confident that you will respect their wishes about treatment.

They may wish to be involved in planning their funeral and prefer a cremation or burial. Such advance planning means the arrangements can reflect the values and wishes they believe characterised their life. It also relieves you and your family members of some of the responsibility, including the funeral cost, that will follow your loved one’s death.

Knowing what to do when someone dies can help you cope better at a time when you’re feeling difficult emotions.