Most of us are familiar with “grief” as something we experience after the death of a loved one. However, grieving can begin long before the final loss occurs, for you as well as your loved one. When a family member or a close friend suffers from a terminal illness, those close to them experience a series of losses that are eerily similar to grief itself. Whether you’re caring for an aging parent that’s starting to fade away or someone you love is facing imminent death, it is important you remember to help yourself as well.
Dealing with Anticipatory Grief
Because we understand grief as something that occurs after death, many of us don’t know what we’re experiencing is anticipatory grief. When a loved one is approaching death, those close to them may grieve the loss of many of their loved one’s abilities.
During this period, you may experience a swirl of emotions that go back and forth. Although everyone grieves differently, friends or family members often feel shocked, confused, anxious, angry, guilty, and overwhelming sadness. One could say these are an extension of the five stages of grief most people experience after the death of a loved one. These are all sentiments expected to overwhelm those suffering the pain and loss that accompany the fact that someone they love is dying.
It is important to recognize that these are all valid emotions, and they need acceptance. As difficult as it is, acknowledging the reality of imminent death will help those grieving find comfort in their loved one’s physical presence, and in the possibility of caring for them until their final days.
Today, there are several websites to help people deal with grief. These can be especially helpful for those caring for a dying loved one as they can be accessed anywhere in the world.
The Power of Meaningful Conversations
When a loved one is approaching death, intense emotions can be overwhelming to everyone close to them. While you care for your loved one, remember the power of meaningful conversations. Often, people at the end of life recall happy memories with those they’re leaving behind, to find closure and comfort. Use these moments to channel conversations towards forgiveness, thankfulness, and loving memories that foster a close connection.
People approaching death may try to communicate an essential message to those around them, even when sometimes the words are not clear. Please do not assume what they are saying is nonsensical babble; try to understand what they are trying to say and let them know you received their message.
Ask the Tough Questions
While everyone wants to ignore the elephant in the room, at one point, you will have to ask the tough questions. If your loved one has made pre-planning arrangements, this conversation will go smoothly. When they have not, you have to make sure you know their final wishes, where all the documents you will need are saved, and other valuable information that will help you make sure your loved one remains comfortable.
Preparing to Say Goodbye
When you prepare to say goodbye, remember this is all about them—not you. In many cases, the presence of friends and family will speak louder than a million words. In this case, be selective with your words. Less is often more. Let your loved one take the lead on the conversation. Remember to say “I love you,” talk about how they’re feeling, encourage them to share memories, and be truthful and kind over everything.
Caring for Yourself, Too
It is easy to forget nurturing yourself during this challenging time. Caregivers often forget to look out for their necessities. You have to make sure to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
For those who struggle to share their feelings, this could be difficult to manage. However, it is important to find a friend or family member that can act as your lifeline, that person that will listen to you without judging. If you can’t find this person between your friends and family members, seek help from a counselor who specializes in grief.
Caring for a loved one or friend is a trying experience; many caregivers experience “compassion fatigue,” or exhaustion for providing constant care. Accompanying a loved one or a friend on their final journey is a painful experience. Be kind to yourself, let your emotions run freely, take it easy, give thanks for the things in life that bring you joy, be grateful for the last days with your loved one, and forgive yourself for having rough days.
When to Reach Out for Help
Caring for a dying loved one takes a toll that leaves most caregivers physically exhausted and emotionally drained. As much as your attention is, and should be, focused on your loved one, it is also important to remember to care for yourself. The most important thing you can do to shield your emotional and physical health during this challenging time is knowing when to reach out for help.
The need for help can come from various places. Financial worries are often at the top of the list, as caring for a dying loved one can be an economic challenge. Reaching out to friends and other family members should not be looked at as shameful or embarrassing. In most cases, those close to the dying person will be eager to help.
Time-management and final arrangements can also be complicated. This is particularly true for caregivers with full-time or part-time jobs, those going to school, and those with small children. Managing their time between caring for their loved one and living their lives can be challenging – reaching out for support can be a tremendous help.
If at any point you feel disconnected from reality, you feel physically exhausted, or you lack sleep, consider seeking help. Working with a professional grief counselor can help you manage your emotions and challenges better. Likewise, seeking out help with an elder care center can bring down the need of constantly caring for your loved one.
Seeking help is not admitting defeat or neglecting your loved one’s care. It means you care enough for them that you’re willing to ensure that you’re in your best shape possible, both physically and emotionally, to make sure you can care for them the way they deserve in their final days.
We Are Here to Help
At The Gardens of Boca Raton, our funeral experts provide grief counseling services to those struggling with the imminent death of their loved one. Contact us today to schedule a private counseling session.