Caregiving: How to Prepare, Embrace, and Survive the Final Moments. Ask any recent mother about her child delivery experience and you will not hear the same run-of-the-mill stories. Each woman’s childbirth experience is different. As a point of comparison, there are just as many accounts about the dying process. Just as we come into this world in our own unique way, we will also leave it in our own distinctive fashion. But, one thing is for sure—we will all die someday. Our life stories will be different, as evidenced in obituaries and hand-me-down family stories. We hate to admit it, but simply stated, death is a part of life.
One day your parents might be sitting on the couch chatting with you. A week or so later, they may be lying in bed struggling with labored breathing and experiencing hallucinations. You may be alarmed with the death rattle you hear in their chest. Shortly thereafter, they might die in your arms or while you are in a different room. But, then what?
When a loved one is close to passing away, we know we will face impending pain, grief, and sadness especially when that final moment occurs. Often times we wish we had time to rest, mourn and cry right after the death of our loved ones—but we can’t. We are thrust into dealing with the practical steps that need to be taken. Being prepared for this moment is tough, but it is by far one of the most important steps you can take.
Commit your works to the Lord. And your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)
Before the Final Moment: Preparing
If your loved one is lucid, having information available will be very helpful to you when the time of death occurs.
iInformation may include:
Instructions pertaining to burial and funeral arrangements, pastoral information, favorite Bible verses or hymns to use at funeral
Location of important documents. Examples include the will, people to notify upon death, personal documents, debts, keys (car, home, and safety deposit), pension papers, bank account information, insurance information, social security number, usernames and passwords, business instructions.
Personal information, e.g. name of colleges and degrees, certifications, past and current employers. All this is helpful to those left behind for probate, obituaries, and other important duties that need to be carried out.
If a person has been disinherited from a will, it is important to get an explanation in writing as to why in the will. This will help in resolving any disputes and/or contesting of the will.
Signs that Death is Near
As death becomes closer, you might notice that your parent might sleep more, be less verbal, eat less, drink less, encounter more pain, develop changes in blood pressure, experience a change in heart rate, undergo changes in skin, go to the bathroom less, become incontinent, suffer with confusion, experience erratic breathing, exhibit restlessness, endure difficulty swallowing, see visions, show evidence of glazed eyes, and extremities may appear bluish in color.
Knowing when to call the family to say goodbye is difficult to gauge. When you notice symptoms, you may want to let family and close friends know so an opportunity to say a final farewell may occur. Obviously, at this point, you don’t know the exact time that death will occur, but most loved ones would appreciate a “heads up!”
It is interesting that many people have noted that sometimes before death, a person has a moment of lucidity. It happened the night before my father passed away. All the family was standing around his bed. He opened his eyes, looked at everyone and gave the biggest grin ever. It was so remarkable that he knew and loved seeing his family around during his last hours with leukemia. After seeing us all, he clapped for us. What a blessing that was!
Encountering the Final Moment: Embracing
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever. (John 14:16)
If death occurs in a hospital or facility, the staff will usually guide you as to the steps that must take place.
If the death occurs at home under a hospice situation, there is no need to rush to call the funeral home. As reminder, “hospice” is not a place—It is a concept. Lingering around your loved one to say goodbye and comfort others is acceptable. When the hospice agency is called, they will support you and the family through your grief. They can also help you by contacting the designated funeral home if you have one. A death must be pronounced by a medical doctor or hospice nurse. Having hospice already in place will help the family during this difficult time.
It is worth mentioning that without hospice, the process will be more complicated. You will be responsible for making arrangement for your loved one to be picked up. But first, you will need to call 911. When an ambulance arrives, you might be asked when the time of death occurred. Be prepared to show a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order) especially if you have waited over an hour to call them.
After the Final Moment: Surviving
Request Death Certificates
When my father passed away, the funeral home told us to request at least 20 copies of the death certificates. There will be many instances where you will need them as you clear up their estate, personal affairs, and business. If the funeral home you are using does not supply those to you, they can be obtained by contacting the Vital Statistics office in the state where the death occurred. Most organizations will require an original death certificate, not a copy.
Inform All Financial Establishments
After you receive the death certificates, it will be time to contact all institutions regarding the death. Insurance companies, credit card companies, mortgage companies, brokerage firms, banks and more should be notified. Be aware that once banks are notified of a death, the accounts are usually frozen until new accounts are set up with the survivors; this may take longer than anticipated, so be sure the family has enough money/cash to get by until this is taken care of.
Get in Touch with Providers
Contact utility companies (telephone, cable, Internet service providers) for cancellation or name changes. It is not imperative to cancel home services such as gas, water, electric, lawn services, pest control until a later date. This will ensure that the home or apartment can continue to be maintained until decisions are made.
Report the Death to Government Agencies
Notify the Social Security office and the Veteran’s Administration about the loss of your loved one. While some benefits might be canceled, others may be adjusted for survivor benefits. If your parents were veterans, survivor benefits may be available depending on the eligibility for you or other family members.
Contact Employers and Former Employers
Contacting current or former employers is essential. The Human Resources departments of these organizations will help you sort out benefits, life insurance, stocks, and beneficiary information. By contacting former companies, you might be surprised to find out that there is a death benefit that you are unaware of. It is your responsibility to find out about that, not theirs!
Probate the Estate
If the deceased had a will, there is usually an executor who is responsible for handling the distributing of wealth and property once a person dies. If there is no will, each state has rules and lists of qualified individuals to help you with distribution. If you have been named an executor, you must show proof of your role before working in that capacity; this is usually stated in the person’s will or an addendum. Depending on the deceased’s estate, it can take up to a year or longer to sort out all the details.
One simple fact is when our loved one dies, there are no easy answers or exact protocol to follow. There will be pain, grief, and sadness. When the apostle Paul spoke of death, he desired that “according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20) As we face our death and the death of our family members, let’s view it as the beginning, not the end—a time to exalt and glorify God. When we envision that our real home is in heaven, it may be a little easier to let our loved ones go.
Saying that we cannot trivialize death. We will miss our parents or family members when they pass away. It’s easy to focus on ourselves and the loss that we will/have encountered both before and after they die. Many people who spend the days, weeks, and months before an impending death giving their loved ones’ support, compassion, love, and care finding it very comforting to their souls.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 states, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—a time to give birth and a time to die.” Let’s be prepared for God’s moment and His timing by being wise, fruitful, and loving while we embrace our loved ones’ last days—in both the practical and spiritual sense.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
In my distress, I called upon the Lord, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. (Psalm 18:6)
Most gracious God. Please be with me as I face the final days of my parent(s). Let me care for them as You care for me. I need Your wisdom, Your grace, and Your peace. I need You now more than ever during this time when decisions need to be made. Let me be pre-prepared—both physically, emotionally and spiritually to know Your will during this difficult time. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Member Inspirational Writers Alive; Bible Gateway Blogger Grid Member
Edited by E. Johnson; Bible verses are taken from the NASB if not noted otherwise.
Preparing for the Death of a Loved One. : MetaMd. National Caregiver’s Library. Accessed 15 Oct 2016. www.caregiverslibrary.org.
Randall, Clark. 5 Things to Do Immediately After a Loved One Dies. USA Today. 24 Oct 2015. Accessed 15 Oct 2016. www.USAToday.com.
What to Expect When Your Loved One is Dying. WebMD. Accessed 15 Oct 2016. www.webmd.com.
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Books by Patti Greene