Preparing for the Loss of a Parent
There’s no way around it — preparing for the loss of a loved one is wrenching. But, there are things that you can do during this time that may give you and the person you love better peace of mind. Learn more about how adult children can prepare for the loss of a loved one.
Preparing for Loss
Polly Cummings was not prepared for the death of her husband Walter 13 years ago. Although the 53-year-old had a grim prognosis and year-long illness, she was so focused on driving him to chemotherapy and mothering her two children that she didn’t think about the time when he would no longer be there.
“It was a source of pride for Walter to do the finances, so I let him,” says Polly. “But, when he died, I was not prepared. I didn’t know where to start. Instead of flailing around, I should have talked ahead of time to his accountant, financial advisor, and bank. It made the loss even worse.”
You can chalk up her lapse to caregiver exhaustion, inexperience, and something else: our society’s extreme discomfort with discussing death, whether it’s our own or someone else’s.
Slowly, though, that attitude is shifting, thanks to 76 million “tell-it-like-it-is” boomers who turn 68 this year.
The Pluses of Preparation
There’s another reason, too: experts believe that if you address the impending loss of a spouse due to a terminal illness, or a parent’s aging, you are likely to fare better — and in the process, may give the person you love peace of mind.
“We prepare more for a vacation than we do for loss and death,” says Shelley Whizin, a certified death midwife who spoke in September 2014 on the topic at a Motion Picture & Television Fund women’s conference in Los Angeles.
Laurel Lewis, a nurse and end-of-life expert also on the program, believes “loss can be complicated. It’s not just physical separation, but also emotional and spiritual. Usually there’s a financial component. You are vulnerable, confused, scared and forced to make big life decisions in an altered state.”
On the other hand, Lewis notes, “If you tie things up before the loss, you can live your life more fully and the grieving process may be shorter than if you were in denial.”
When a loss isn’t predicted (i.e. in a tragic accident) but is inevitable and dreaded, it is sometimes called “anticipatory grief.” Like the grief you experience after a death, you may feel depression, anger, guilt, fear, sadness and denial. The “good” part about it is that there’s time to do and say the things you want. You can plan, and you should.
Here are some ways to prepare:
1. Conserve your energy. Rather than be barraged by phone calls and emails from friends and family seeking an update, communicate just one time. It could be a conference call, or a website like CaringBridge. Another site, Lotsa Helping Hands, lets caregivers post the help they need and others sign up for duties. You might also want to create a family website and divvy up jobs. One sibling can make sure all documents are in order and have a master list of passwords, while another can research funeral arrangements.
2. Take cues from the one who is ill. Some people want to talk about what they’re going through, or what happens after. For Cummings’s husband Walter, it was an off-limits topic. Before her mother died this June at age 93, though, she talked candidly about her feelings and wishes. That put Polly and her sisters “at peace” after her mom passed away.
3. Seize the opportunity! You want to feel that you have done everything you can for your loved one and for yourself. Do you need to say “thank you,” “I forgive you,” “I’m sorry,” or “I love you?”
4. Be good to yourself. Yes, caregivers are always told this, but if you are able to sleep, eat well, exercise, and/or find a place to vent, you will be in better shape to cope. Support groups, meditation, yoga, and short breaks, like a sneak-away pedicure or blow dry, coffee with a friend, a movie or a walk are also good ways to think about you.
5. Don’t wait for the funeral. You can say all these wonderful things about the person after he’s gone, but what about telling him or honoring him before? You can make a video of the people in his life talking about what he means to them, and share it with him, for example.
Three days before Whizin’s best friend died, she arranged to have eight of the woman’s dearest friends fly in from around the country to gather around her “and talk about how much they love her while she could hear them, not at a service when she won’t be around,” says Whizin. “We were all so grateful to have this opportunity. It eased the pain. We wanted her to know that she had made a huge impact on our lives.”
Have you been in a situation with a loved one who was ill or at the end of life? What do you wish you had done or known in preparing for your loss? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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