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Losing a loved one is never easy, whatever stage of life we’re in.
When someone you care about receives news that their loved one is dying, they’ll go through a rollercoaster of emotions. The constant worry of whether their loved one is in pain. Perhaps anger at the situation. Why them? Fear, relief, guilt… All of those emotions can be mentally and physically exhausting.
Caring for someone nearing the end of their life can be stressful and often isolating. But there are simple things that we can do to support someone who’s going through this experience.
When someone is caring for a loved one who is terminally ill, it may be all they focus on. Ask the question, “How can I help?”.
Offering practical support to a friend or loved one can be a lifeline. Cook a meal. Clean. Do a spot of gardening. You may even offer to help with the school run or drive to hospital appointments. Whatever it is, you can be sure that your help is not only appreciated but relieves some of the stress.
Your loved one may be feeling too overwhelmed to know what help they need.
Helping out with little everyday tasks means that they don’t need to sweat the small stuff. Be observant and use your initiative to make life a little easier for them to cope with. If you see a pile of dirty dishes, wash them up. If there’s a basket of wet laundry, hang it out to dry. Empty fridge? Bring a few of their favourite foods.
It’s important for carers to take a break so that they’re in a better headspace to support those important to them. Often people will forget to take care of themselves. They may feel selfish for doing something for themselves or that they don’t have time. They may just be running on autopilot.
In these cases, you may find that you have to “order” your loved one to take a break. Tell them to go and get some fresh air or relax in the bath. Arrange to keep their loved one company so that they can take a break. The time out will help them find the strength to keep going.
Some people cope with grief by dealing with practical matters like funeral arrangements or wills. Some may find it too overwhelming to even begin thinking about what happens after their loved one has passed away. Either way, sensitively offering your support can help your loved one to know that you care.
Remember that while this may be a constructive way to channel their energy, it may also distract your loved one from spending quality last moments together with their parent. Encourage them not to forget about the present.
It can be easy to slip into “carer” mode rather than “family” mode. Instead of treasuring time with their parent, your loved one may be focusing on ensuring their parent’s physical needs – medication, food, or personal care.
Help them to create lasting, cherished memories of the last moments that they have with their parent or loved one. Encourage them to be a son or daughter first, and a carer second. Perhaps the parent has a bucket list of things they want to do. You may be able to help sort out the practicalities of doing something from their bucket list.
You can still support your loved one through this difficult time, even if you live further away.
You could send a care package to let them know you’re thinking of them. An online shopping delivery may be just what they need to ensure that they eat properly. A caring phone call or text message can reassure them that they’re not going through this period alone.
Talk to your loved one about their memories. Sharing stories is a way of connecting with another person. Jog your loved one’s memory of a few precious moments to help them find something to share with their loved one. It’s another lovely way of creating new memories in those final moments.
When all is said and done, sometimes the best way to help someone trying to cope with loss, is to just be there and listen. Be a shoulder to cry on, so your loved one has somewhere to go and release the tension and pent-up emotions.
It can be hard to know how to support someone who’s losing a loved one. Everyone copes with grief differently but knowing someone cares can make the burden a little easier. So don’t disappear and just be there for them to lean on when they need to.
Written by Holly Dodd
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