Final Arrangements: Things to Consider When a Loved One Is Near the End of Life

By Emma Grace Brown

Making final arrangements for a loved one can be extremely difficult and painful, but these steps are a necessary part of making sure that they are well cared for near the end of their life and that their wishes are carried out to the fullest. There are a lot of details to consider, including how to cover the cost of a funeral and/or memorial, and if your loved one is very ill, they may need care at a long-term facility such as a hospice. No one wants to face these dark times, but it can be extremely beneficial for you to make plans ahead of time.

Start by finding out what your loved one wants. It’s important not to make decisions without their consent, especially when it comes to their final care. Get to know their doctors and other healthcare providers, and find out about any essential paperwork that will need to be taken care of, including health insurance and life insurance policies. Think about the best ways to keep them comfortable, especially if they are living with a painful illness.

Some considerations you might need to make include the following.

Getting to Know the Care Team

Your loved one will likely be receiving care from several people, and it’s important to get to know the team in charge of their wellness. Talk to them about their experience, their background, and what their duties will be in regards to your loved one. Keep in mind that social workers are often assigned to work with patients who are terminally ill to help bring them comfort and answer any questions they may have. These caregivers will typically have a Master of Social Work degree; ask about their education background and learn more about how they got into the program.

Helping to Make Them Comfortable

When someone you love is in pain or discomfort, it’s never easy to sit by and watch them go through it. It can be hard to know how best to help, especially if your loved one is suffering from cancer or another disease that affects their immune system. You have to be careful about what you bring into their environment. Talk to their doctor or caregiver about how you can help make them comfortable. If they are receiving care at their own home, consider offering to bring over dinner or run errands. Doing chores like cleaning and decluttering the home may also help to ease stress, which can help your loved one feel better.

Figuring Out Arrangements

It’s likely something both you and your loved one have already thought about: final arrangements. While not everyone knows what they want in terms of a funeral or memorial, many people do, and it’s important for you to find out what your friend or family member’s last wishes are so that you can start preparing. Talk about whether they have a life insurance policy or if health insurance will cover hospice costs, and learn where you can find paperwork that will be necessary to make these plans. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but individuals who are living with a terminal illness often already have a good idea of what they want.

Taking Care of Yourself

It’s not always easy to take time to make sure your own needs are taken care of when your loved one is terminally ill, but it’s important to try. Grief can have a major effect on your mind and body and can leave you feeling exhausted, sad, and overwhelmed, among other things. Ask for help when you need it. Talk to your friends and family members about what you need to be okay, or consider seeing a therapist or counselor so you can talk through your feelings.

Final arrangements are difficult things to think about, whether they’re for you or for someone else. You may be feeling stress, anticipatory grief, or anxiety in relation to your responsibilities, so don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Make sure you spend lots of time with your loved one when possible, and prepare ahead of time for the things you can handle on your own.

Hospice Chaplaincy offers free resources and information for chaplains on providing quality, spiritual end-of-life care. To learn more, explore our articles and podcast.

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