Photo by Alain Frechette

Preparing for the death of a loved one is never easy.  We are never prepared for what we feel when someone dies, nor are we prepared for what occurs afterwards.  Sometimes death comes without warning, and we are forced to endure the grief through shock.  Sometimes death takes months or years when we are too weary with fatigue to move forward. We can prepare our minds but our emotions are never quite prepared.

Sudden Death

Recently, my 63-year-old nephew passed away after an 18-month illness.  We knew it was coming but it happened unexpectedly.  There is no preparation to process the reaction to getting a call that your loved one has died. But it happens every day.  Death comes in a multitude of forms, sudden heart attack, accidents, falls, or after long illnesses.  The initial reaction is often shock trying to comprehend and process the news. Shock from the grief of losing a loved one results in profound sadness and the inability to do the simplest tasks. There is no opportunity to say goodbye when someone suddenly dies. People often just go through the motions of daily life for months or years after the sudden death of a loved one. Some people never regain the ability to live.

How can we help soften this blow? Preparing for the death of a loved one who has died suddenly is virtually impossible. However, often remembering the good times turns a smile into a laugh.  Grief does not dissipate but the blow is softened to know others share cherished memories. Friends and relatives feel the initial shock but also hold the key to recovery and the ability to move forward. They can offer support by sharing stories, kind words and just being present while others grieve.

Death after a Long Illness

We sometimes realize death was the best option since prolonged illnesses eliminate quality of life. People will tell you death is a blessing to help to console your grief.  In my book, One Caregiver’s Journey, I describe how after ten years of being a sole caregiver my mother, she just stopped breathing. That was it, she died in the blink of an eye while I was sitting right next to her. She had been in home hospice care for a month and in bed for two weeks. My father, on the other hand, died after a ten-year roller coaster ride with cancer. During that time, he’d be in remission for a few years, and the cancer would pop up someplace else.  He died six weeks after he was diagnosed the third time. He was in the hospital surrounded by my mother, brothers, and me when he passed. He was at peace, and we would not have to watch him suffer any longer.  Fatigue from the death of a loved one after a long illness is as great as grief.  My fatigue was greater than grief in the death of both my parents.  My brothers and I had and shared wonderful memories of both our parents. Those memories also gave us the energy we needed to move forward with our lives.

As my nephew grew sicker from multiple health issues his demeanor changed, and he became angry, combative, and difficult.  He would refuse treatment and medication and on other occasions he wanted treatment and medication. For his mother and two sisters the task of caring for him was guided by the day and his demeanor.  His death was truly a blessing, but we still grieve his passing. My oldest brother (my nephew’s father) died 23 years earlier after a two-month bout with cancer. He was told to get his affairs in order at the time he was diagnosed. His illness was debilitating, and death was quick.  Both were expected, we were prepared for neither.

The Unseen

After my mother’s passing and fatigue from 10 years of isolated caregiving, I learned others were busy criticizing the care I had provided at the end. In preparing for the death of a loved one we do not consider having to fend off cruel comments or opinions from people we thought were trusted friends. My experience is not an isolated incident. In addition to grieving the loss, we often must also contend with the actions and words of others and decide if it is worth the effort to respond. Those who criticized my caregiving were not quiet.  I heard the comments from many others and that heightened my grief and instilled doubt, dismay, and anger. I chose to keep my distance and quietly moved forward with my life. I shared the comments with the hospice director who assured me that I was not the cause of my mother’s death.  None of the people who sent gossip into the world about my caregiving ever had a place at the table in my life again.  As an aside, one of them died suddenly shortly after my mother and my brother and I paid our respects by attending her services. One way to deal with the negativity of others is to be the bigger person and above the fray.

Can you Prepare for the death of a Loved One?

The answer is quite simply yes.  These are not pleasant discussions because no one wants to think of dying.  But knowing and adhering to one’s wishes at death is a positive coping method.  Planning your will, estate, and even pre-planning a funeral is also worth considering. By doing so, when death occurs the burdens of making decisions while grief is fresh are alleviated. The funeral director cannot take advantage of your wallet or your emotions by saying you’d want only the best for your loved one.   In this same vein, your children are not left to make decisions or have the financial burden, or worse yet, do nothing. Families often make a video or picture board collection to be shared at a service to honor their lives.

People who take advantage of hospice care for a loved one also have access to professionals who can prepare family members and soften the blow of death.  Some people look to their spiritual director or church leaders to provide comfort and consolation prior to death. These same groups of people also offer options to prepare for what occurs after death.  Families can receive grief counseling or be part of a group who are contending with grief.  In my case, after 10 years of isolated caregiving for my mother, my biggest challenge was to reintegrate back into the world that had moved on without me.

One Caregiver’s Journey was written over a ten-year period.  It is a snapshot into the realities of the changes and challenges of being a caregiver over time up to death and beyond.  It is a blueprint for caregivers and includes information how to prepare for the death of a loved one. Primarily how I prepared.  The journey of caregiving and preparing for the eventual end of that episode is not easy.  We are often blinded by the caregiving tasks at hand to provide a safe and stable environment for our loved ones and don’t think about what lies ahead or how we will navigate what comes afterwards.  There is no right or wrong way to prepare for the death of a loved one, we go through the emotional process alone.  Grab a copy of One Caregiver’s Journey on Amazon or at

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