The end-of-life journey is a challenging one for everyone involved. As with most of life’s challenges, however, it is possible to to make the experience count. You can fill your loved one’s final months on earth with love and happiness and make it the celebration and fulfillment of a life well lived.
This is not as complicated as you might think. It simply takes a strong resolve, an open heart and some thoughtful, considerate preparation. Here are a few recommendations to help you as your dear friend or family member begins the journey:
Repair and Reinforce Relationships
People approaching the end of life often feel the need to “tie up loose ends” with friends and family members. If your loved one expresses this need, do everything you can to make it possible. This might involve initiating contact with folks who have been long out of touch or providing transportation so that old friends can visit.
You yourself may have old emotional wounds involving your relationship with your loved one. If so, now is the time for forgiveness. Instead of holding on to anger or bitterness, share pleasant memories together. Retell favorite stories, browse through photo albums or fill your loved one’s home with the smell of favorite foods. You’ll be creating newer, happier remembrances that you will always treasure.
Be Kind to Yourself
This is an emotionally-charged time. There may be days when you feel overwhelmed by sadness, or by guilt for “not doing enough.” If these feelings arise, give yourself a little break. Or better yet, make regular time in your schedule for personal activities that bring you joy and restore your equilibrium.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking your own physical and emotional health aren’t important! By taking good care of yourself, you’ll give yourself the energy and positive outlook you need to support your dear one and be fully present when you’re togther.
Let Your Loved One Take the Lead
Sometimes people use life’s day-to-day details as a way to avoid discussing the difficult issues at hand. You and your loved one may have very different ideas about what’s important right now. Your loved one may even make choices that you think are wrong.
Remember to avoid these potential conflicts. Respect your dear one’s wishes and let him or her take the lead as much as possible. Make their comfort and happiness your first priority when you’re together, and address your own needs in other surroundings and with other people.
Find a Good Listener
Inevitably you’ll experience a whole range of emotions, from anger to denial, sorrow to hope. You may feel raw and vulnerable, or you may feel the need to be strong for others – or very commonly, all this at the same time. Unexpressed emotions can impair your grieving process and act like a poison in your most important relationships – so it’s especially important that you have an appropriate outlet for bringing your feelings to light without being judged, criticized or corrected.
In short, you need a caring listener. Ideally this will be someone trustworthy outside your immediate family. Depending on your needs and preferences it might be a member of the clergy, a hospice counselor or social worker or simply a close friend. Whoever you choose to speak with, be honest and let your feelings out.
Above all, know that this is a natural part of the life process. With your support, your love and your compassion, the journey will be a beautiful one.