How to Prepare for the Loss of a Loved One…A Daughter’s Perspective
My mother recently passed away at the age of 87. She started putting her affairs in order when she was 63. She was a wonderful woman for many reasons, and since her passing I’ve become aware of how fortunate we were to be able to “be present with her” during the end of her life.
My siblings and I refer to ourselves as “Team Joan”. We have been actively preparing for that day for about 15 years. My mother was a breast cancer survivor. She had a heart problem and struggled with a mis-diagnosed urinary tract infection (UTI) which gave her dementia like symptoms.
Health issues are not uncommon for the elderly, but I believe the way my family worked together is unique. My brother handled the finances, my oldest sister became the power of attorney (POA), my middle sister monitored her care in a nearby assisted living facility, and I coached from a distance over the last 10 years. Those who did not live close by were still very involved in her life, as she was the matriarch of the family. My middle sister Kathy spent 3 days per week with her, doing all of mom’s favorite things; eating good food, playing with the animals (4 dogs and 3 cats), sitting by the fire pit, helping in the garden and watching her favorite sports on TV. The rest of the family would gather together during holidays and vacations as often as possible.
We also took the time every few years to review and update mom’s wishes for the end of her life. The older she got, the more this changed. I feel grateful that we were so involved because in the end, we knew exactly what she wanted. We knew that she wanted to spend the end of her life with her family and “living” at my sister’s beautiful home nearby. We knew she wanted to be cremated, where her ashes were to go, and the type of celebration she wanted … including the music! I’m proud to say that Team Joan went into high gear after Mom started to experience shortness of breath, and we made her wishes happen quickly. We moved her to a different state, which required a change in doctors, hospice providers and the equipment that she urgently needed. Team Joan had this in place within two days.
I was with my mother, sleeping next to her bedside, talking and laughing with her the last eight days of her life. We had all the family members in and out of the home to say goodbye, and the hospice team encouraged each of us to let our mother know that it was “okay to leave,” that “we will be fine” and “we will take care of each other. ” I was given the ultimate gift of holding her and bathing her as she took her last breath.
The best advice I can give the family is to be “proactive not reactive.” Here is what else I’ve learned during this process:
- Prepare everything with your loved one, from the paperwork to the music, well in advance
- Notify all family members of their loved one’s choices
- Expect conflict among family members, as emotions are high, but keep the focus on your loved one, especially near end of life
- Get hospice involved as soon as possible because they will take care of ordering equipment and medications allowing you to be with your loved one
- Understand that life goes on and you can’t control the end of life
- Give your loved one permission to “let go”
- Delegate different tasks among family members; don’t have one
- person do it all
- If your loved one is in the home, understand that privacy needs to be honored
- Keep talking with family members after your loved one is gone
- Keep life going as usual toward the end, as this is what your loved one wants to experience with you
- We come into this life wearing a diaper and often go out wearing a diaper, so don’t let that bother you
- Hire professional help and allow them to take over, so you can enjoy the precious moments with your loved one and get much needed rest
Patty Curtiss is a devoted daughter and business partner in ElderCaring, Golf Rehab and Bounce You Back. Patty can be reached at 760.578.640.