Sometimes, even the strongest of our loved ones comes down with the sickness or condition that we know is set to become their final stop in the road. The end of our days is difficult to face, but it’s also the great equalizer – the one thing we are all faced with, no matter what other surprises our lives may hold.
Our loved ones guide us, inspire us and help us through so much of our lives, and that can make it heartbreaking to confront the reality of their end being near.
Yet learning to face the end with dignity and a level head is vital – not only for our own peace of mind, but also to provide strength and comfort to those around us also dreading the moment our loved ones are no longer with us.
It’s never easy, but there are always ways to ease the load – as we will explore together below.
Realizing the end is coming
There is no upbeat or fun way of learning that our loved ones are facing the ends of their lives. You may have discovered this sad truth from a medical professional at the point of diagnosis; as kind advice from a friend, spouse or family member; or maybe even from your loved one themselves, as they call you to let you know it’s time to get some affairs in order.
Our loved ones share so much of our lives that it can be truly disturbing to believe that existence is ever possible without them. This is only more true if the loved ones to whom you’ll soon be saying goodbye are parents, guardians or have had a strong influence in the way you have shaped your life today.
When the knowledge arrives that your days shared with your loved ones are limited, it becomes like a lump in the throat that never really goes away. Life still goes on, but there is always that sense of finality hanging over everything – not always talked about, but impossible to ignore.
How best to deal with such a difficult and often strange sensation?
Celebrating the life that’s been led
We often believe that celebrating a loved one’s life is something that ought to happen following their departure from our world – at the funeral or at memorial dinners held in their honor.
However, there’s every reason to celebrate your loved one’s life during the final stages too – especially if your loved ones have the good fortune to be well enough to join you in those celebrations.
This isn’t a suggestion to go out and party all day every day, of course. Sometimes people can feel motivated to bury their dread and grief at the end of a loved one’s life by losing themselves to a party lifestyle that doesn’t actually help anyone.
Instead, consider building a photo album or scrapbook of memories together; planting a tree in the garden in your loved one’s honor; creating a compilation of home videos you’ve all created together through the years; or anything else you believe will best represent the wonders of your loved ones after they have passed away.
Be kind to yourself
The realization that our loved ones will soon no longer be with us can have a tremendously strange effect on even the most rational of people.
You might find yourself ruminating over arguments or unkind words you shared with your loved ones over the years – or dwelling on feuds and bad blood within the family that has made it impossible to stay on speaking terms with the people who matter most.
The end of our lives has a funny habit of bringing all our spats and disagreements in this life into sharp focus – and you may well feel ashamed of your actions or responsible in some way.
Please be kind to yourself during this difficult time of life. The past is gone, and it’s what you do with today, tomorrow and the remaining time you have with your loved ones that matters the most.
Similarly, when the end of your loved one’s life is coming, you may well feel a large responsibility to help get affairs in order, tidy their house, contact far-flung relatives and so on.
If you can’t do as much as you like, or some days simply cannot do anything at all, don’t be hard on yourself. This is a process – some days will be easier to face than others. That is not a fault in your capabilities or your capacity to help your family shoulder this pain – it’s simply a fact of life.
Visualizing life without your loved ones
As unkind as it may sound, one of the more pragmatic ways some people like to live their lives when their loved ones are nearing the end of their lives is to mentally prepare themselves for a life without their presence.
This doesn’t sound very nice, yet it’s more a question of understanding the vacuum that your loved ones leaving your life will leave in your heart, as far in advance as you can.
Many of us rely on our loved ones for counsel, emotional support, occasional financial aid or simply as someone to confide in. As the end of loved ones’ lives approaches, we are confronted with the need to redefine the boundaries of our life, and make independent those parts of ourselves that once were not.
Do not confuse this as a need to live in denial or to ignore the plight of your loved ones while they are still with you, of course.
Seeking solidarity in friends and family
You have every right to lean on the strength of your friends and family during the final stages of any loved ones’ life. However, you should also keep in mind that these same individuals may well turn to you for emotional support from time to time – and being ‘the rock’ of the group may not always be as easy for you as you’d like it to be.
This is especially the case with children, some of whom might be confronting even the concept of mortality for the first time through this process. Depending on your cultural background and spiritual beliefs, this can be a way for you all to connect through faith, healing or understanding how your beliefs shape the way in which you say goodbye to your loved ones.
The key is to stay calm and remain level headed, even when it feels as though the world is falling apart. You have every right to process your own emotions, but it’s also wise to be open and honest with your children and your family – confirm that the days and months ahead will feel hard, but that your loved ones always live on in your hearts and your memories.
How you choose to honor the memory of your loved ones after their time has come is entirely up to you – but the road to that destination needn’t be one of dread and misery. This is a time of life that will put you all through your paces, but you have every reason to see your loved ones off with respect and dignity with us.