Preparing for the Loss of a Loved One: Support for Everyone
Preparing for the Loss of a Loved One
Losing a parent at any age can feel impossibly difficult. It can feel even more challenging when we are the primary caregiver for our loved one. Perhaps you feel the pressure to support them in their final days while still trying to cope yourself. While there is no easy way to walk through this season, I want to offer some help and walk alongside you. We will unpack a few ways we can support a loved one in their final days and ways you can support yourself.
Ways to Support And Care for a Loved One
As a caregiver, we undoubtedly have been through many seasons of life with our loved one. However, this season likely feels entirely new and scary. It can feel intimidating to support a parent in their final days. Truthfully, there is no perfect way to come alongside a parent in this season. However, there are a few ways we can try to alleviate the negatives and focus on the positives.
Be Ready To Listen
Maybe a loved one wants to talk a lot, or maybe they’re not prepared to process. Either way, be ready to listen with an open heart. We should try our best not to have an agenda in these conversations. Instead, focus on hearing them out, listening empathetically, and letting them externalize their feelings.
Pick Up on Cues
This can be tricky but try to see if a loved one subtly expresses something that could make them more comfortable. Are they hinting at wanting to talk about their faith and waiting for us to ask the question? Is the messiness of the room bothering them, but they’re too embarrassed to ask for it to be cleaned?Anticipating their needs and wants (as much as you can) could alleviate some pressure on our loved ones.
When it’s appropriate, offer them as much encouragement as possible. This could look like encouraging them to continue to cling to their chosen faith. Or encouragement could mean making sure they know how much they matter to people and how impactful their life is. Focus on all the positive things they have and still do bring to the world.
Often, in the final days, spaces look different. Rooms can be overly medical, have lots of random people in them, etc. Some of this is unavoidable. However, as much as we can, let’s try to make our parent’s space feel as homely as possible, even if they are not at home. Consider bringing in some of their favorite small items from home. Or encourage visitors to carry themselves as if they were in a home instead of a medical facility. Clean up supplies as much as is medically allowed and safe.
What Is Anticipatory Grief?
When we hear the word “grief,” we usually think of it as the process that happens after a painful event or loss. However, grief does not always come after an event. In fact, sometimes, we begin experiencing grief before the difficult event officially occurs. This is referred to as “anticipatory grief.”
This type of grief is common when caring for an aging parent. Sometimes, we know a loved one’s deteriorating health, and we know what to expect next. If this is happening to you, you may be experiencing anticipatory grief.
It is essential to distinguish this type of grief from the grief that happens after a death or loss. While they both are painful and important to acknowledge, they can feel like totally different experiences.
Part of what makes this type of grief unique is that many caregivers find themselves in a state of grief while still actively supporting their loved ones in their final days. It can put our bodies in a state of alertness. We may feel the usual feelings of grief (sadness, anger, etc.) while still in this heightened state (body ready for a phone call, panic over leaving the hospital to get food, etc.).
With any form of grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. However, sometimes understanding what is happening in our minds and bodies can be helpful. This complicated mix of feelings, emotions, and physical reactions we experience is normal. However, let’s explore some ways we can support ourselves during a difficult time.
Ways to Support and care for Yourself
While much of our time may be focused on our loved ones this season, we need to care for ourselves. Everyone is going through a scary time, and everyone deserves care. Of course, there is no way to make this transition easy. But there are few ways to lift the weight off our shoulders, perhaps just a little bit here and there.
Give Space for Your Experience
When a loved one is in the final stage of their life, we want to focus our energy and care on them. We want to create room for them to talk about their fears, their needs, and more. This is a natural and loving response! However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for our experience as well. It is healthy for us to have space for our own story as we navigate this season with our parents.
Of course, this space may probably is not with our loved one. Instead, consider taking some time alone to process feelings and accept what is happening. Find a place to cry, get mad, or engage in a chosen spiritual practice. Some individuals practice different forms of self-care like meditating or yoga as a way to quiet their minds. Maybe find another person to talk out feelings and worries, just like we are doing for our loved ones.
Understandably, care for our parents is our highest priority this season, but that doesn’t mean we have to bury our own experiences and needs.
Find Your Network and Use It
And as our parent becomes our highest priority, we may not be able to juggle our everyday life like we used to. Maybe we are spending more time with our loved ones, unable to leave the hospital. Or perhaps we emotionally are spent, so dealing with fighting kids at home is too much. The reality is, as we give our best self to our loved ones in this time, someone else may need to step in and fill in some gaps. That is ok, so say yes!
First, identify and connect with a support network. Maybe it is family, friends, a community, or a combination. Get in connection with this network and share with them what is happening. Consider sharing personal feelings and thoughts so that you are not holding in all your emotions.
Next, communicate with this network. This can feel like a vulnerable process, but it can offer so much support. Share with this network your needs—emotional and practical needs. When we feel overwhelmed and need someone else to prep dinner for the family, it is ok for us to ask for it.
If we are feeling exceptionally sad and scared, ask for support. It can feel awkward to ask for help, especially if you have gotten used to managing so much alone as a caregiver. However, the more support we accept in this season, the more we can show up well for our loved ones.
Use time for reflection and positivity
Finally, as hard as it may seem, try to focus on the time you do have left with a loved one and how to use that time positively. Consider ways that the family can have a meaningful connection in these final days and focus on making space for those moments. Of course, this is different for each family and a loved one’s medical state. However, focusing on spending this time with a loved one positively will create wonderful final memories.
For some families, that is sharing favorite memories and stories with a parent, even if we just share them out loud for them to hear. For others, it is simply through touch and holding their hand as much as they can. Ask your network to support you in this and let them fill practical needs so that you have more space for this quality time with your loved one.
Support for a trying time
At Beverly’s Daughter, we understand that preparing for the loss of a parent is one of the hardest roads to walk. Grief and loss are complicated experiences, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed by them, but you are not alone. And while there is no way to take away this hard time in your life, support is available. If you need help beyond your personal support network, we are here to offer other ideas and solutions.
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Support in Preparing for Loss
Preparing for the loss of a loved one can take its toll on a whole family’s emotional and physical health. As your loved one requires more support in this challenging season, it is easy to neglect your own personal needs. As a care network, clear communication and the dividing of responsibilities will be helpful as you prepare for this next season.
hard Times require Big Support
Preparing for the loss of a loved one can feel like an impossible journey. Emotionally there is a lot to process while practically there are a lot of tasks to tackle. We at Beverly’s Daughter are ready to help. Connect with us and we can provide some assistance for some practical needs and questions you might have so that you have more emotional space for your loved one.