Planning Ahead for the Inevitable
“”He doesn’t have much time left,” the nursing home attendant shared with me as I looked nervously toward the spare room where my dad lay dying. I felt panicked. I had so many questions. Were my father’s affairs in order? Would my family stick together or descend into petty deathbed battles? Where was the dying relative rule book? I hadn’t thought to see if there was one before driving to see my parent for the last time.
I’ve learned now that impending death is always a charged occasion, but it’s especially hard if you’re unprepared. If you’re facing loss, you can approach the inevitable with the 3 C’s: consciousness, care, and consideration. These four tips offer insights about what to anticipate and how loved ones should treat each other:
If you’re in a managerial capacity (e.g., child, executor, etc.), help get your loved one’s affairs in order now
Are the person’s wishes clearly — and legally — documented? If not, don’t delay. Wills and advanced-care directives save time and stress in the long run.
Encourage normalcy as much as possible
In the presence of the terminally ill, some people freeze. They don’t know what to say or do. Encourage loved ones to speak to the dying person as directly and normally as ever, even if there’s no response. Engage in conversation with each other, too, sharing happy memories and bits of news. Let family and friends know that hearing is the last of the senses a dying person loses, so assume the dying person can understand what’s being said.
When it comes to including children, involve them if they want
Your first instinct may be to shield your kids from sadness. But by doing so, you might deny them the chance to express their good-byes and feel the strength of family and friendship bonds. Including them is a way to socialize the concept that death is a part of life and create an inclusive atmosphere. Explain what’s happening in age-appropriate terms.
Don’t stop the natural flows of emotions
In the time remaining, don’t interfere with important interactions between the dying person you may be trying to protect and loved ones you may reflexively police. You might feel like it’s your job to be stoic and control what’s happening when feelings spring forth. Don’t condemn tears or laughter. People handle grief differently. Release judgment and treat loved ones with respect. This is a time for acceptance, not disapproval.
Finally, know upfront that it’s impossible to plan for everything. Expect the unexpected. You cannot control the timing, people, and emotions surrounding your loved one’s death. The best you can do is consciously consider what’s ahead and create as caring an environment as possible for all.