If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve. -Lao Tzu
Someone in your life is dying. This experience, the grief, the sadness, the stress will be one of the hardest in your life. Watching someone you care for grow ill and pass away while the world keeps moving and life keeps happening can be overwhelming. As we are born we are also fated to die. It is part of the circle of life and what makes our time so precious. Making sure to get the most out of the remaining time, finding ways to talk when it is hardest, and having no regrets or things left unsaid after your loved one dies, these are the goals. In this article, we will go over some advice and essential topics to help you through this difficult period.
Don’t Avoid Talking About Their Illness and Death
Culturally, we have a real aversion to talking about or thinking about death until it is in our faces. When our loved ones passed at home and wakes and funerals held in our homes, the reality of death was much less avoidable. The sterility of hospitals and funeral homes remove the immediacy, making it easy to ignore until we have to. Because of that, encountering a loved one who is dying may test our skills of what and how to talk about death. For some, the temptation is to avoid it entirely, trying to keep a brave face on and ignore any unpleasantness. Experts say to fight that instinct, as a person who is dying may want to talk about their illness, their overall health or about the process of dying.[i] It may further burden them to know you are pretending to put them at ease. Better advice is to let your loved one lead the discussion. They may want to talk about death, they may want to talk about the ballgame. Ask them questions about their life. Ask questions about their faith. Ask and make the time to really listen to the answers. Let them steer the ship and try not to change subjects or cut them off.
Many people worry that showing sadness to their loved one will further upset them. But the truth is more complicated, if you are sad, it is alright to show them that you are sad. The one gift of knowing you have a limited amount of time with someone is that you now have to be concise and present. Say the things you need to say, ask the questions while the person is there to answer them. Have the conversations while you can. You want to feel at the end of their journey that there were no regrets. You told them how much you loved them. You asked all the questions in your head to ask. You know how they felt about you. It isn’t easy to be that intimate, especially if you aren’t accustomed to speaking so openly, but in the end, there may come a catharsis. That all that needed to be said was said and that the air was cleared.
Getting Paperwork in Order
Now that we have some of the social and emotional components taken care of, it’s now important that we make sure all the paperwork is in order as well. If your loved one has a terminal diagnosis, they know how things will end. So, talking about the legal and technical paperwork is not rude but necessary. The first step is making sure they have all the important paperwork in order, ideally in a secure place with a named proxy/ executor.
Documents needed include: birth certificates, marriage certificates, house deeds, car titles, insurance policies, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid information. All financial information including credit card, bank accounts, investment portfolio information, and income tax paperwork.[ii] Giving access to all pertinent passwords for accounts/ email/social media to a trusted person is important as well. The next step is making sure the loved one has a current will and has named a durable power of attorney for health and has named an executor for financial aspects as well.
Making Final Arrangements
Another emotional, but important, topic to cover is the final arrangements for your loved one. As mentioned above, the one positive about having a finite amount of time is that it gives you a timeline to get their affairs in order. Confirm all funeral arrangements have been made and paid for. With time, they request certain music, outfits and burial details. Working together on an obituary may also be a nice way to reflect and reminisce about all the accomplishments your loved one has achieved.[iii]
While the process of watching a loved one pass away can be a harrowing one, it can also be fulfilling. Knowing that you have a limited time frame can be the motivator to ask all the questions and say everything you need to say. Getting paperwork and affairs in order can be helpful and relieve some of the burdens on the dying, who may feel they haven’t enough time or are overwhelmed. Peace of mind in one of life’s more difficult moments is an invaluable gift, and knowing that their wishes will be carried out and they will not be a burden can set your loved one’s mind at ease.
Most of all, you want to make sure you let them know they are loved.