It’s normal to be upset by the prospect of losing somebody you love. everybody feels that way. Still, especially when illness or addiction is involved, the lack of social structures to help with the long, drawn-out period when death is on its way can make things very difficult. If you’re going through something like this it’s important to know how to take care of yourself and make things as easy as possible for all involved.
In situations like this, the grieving process can start before your loved one dies. It’s subtly different for each individual and can involve confusing feelings like anger, fear and guilt (even if you know you’ve done nothing wrong). Some people are unnerved because they don’t seem to feel much of anything. It’s important to remember that there are no obligations and that your emotions will sort themselves out in time. In the meantime you need to be patient and try to manage them so that they don’t interfere with your relationship with the dying person.
Understanding the process
When death occurs in a slow, natural way, it usually involves the dying person becoming more withdrawn. Don’t take this as a rejection and be careful not to crowd or overwhelm the person, who will gradually need more sleep. Don’t push them to eat or drink more – just ask what small things you might do to make them happy. If they want company, they may be content simply to hold your hand and not have the energy to interact more.
Talking and listening
The chances are that you and others who are close to the dying person will have things you feel it’s important to say before death happens. Now is the time to make your confessions and express your feelings so that you’re not left burdened with regret – but remember that the dying person may not have the energy to react much. Don’t make it all about you – take the time to listen to what they feel it’s important to say as well.
Towards the end, if the dying person feels up to it, it can be good to take photographs, record them speaking or make videos together so that you will have things to help you remember. Be understanding if they don’t want to do all of this and would prefer to be remembered as they were when stronger. Ask them which memories they most treasure and would like you to preserve.
It might sound grim, but making a practical plan together to take care of funeral arrangements can actually set everyone’s minds at ease. Whether there’s going to be a burial, a cremation or something else, the dying person may feel comforted by knowing what the next stage of the physical journey will be, and you will have reassurance that you’re respecting their wishes.
Death is never easy and nothing you can do will make it so, but sharing moments of emotional intimacy towards the end can help you to adjust. Take time to reflect on all the ways that your loved one’s influence will continue to affect the world, and remember that you’re part of that legacy.