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  • Gladys Childs

Simple & Practical Steps to Prepare for a Loved One's Death

Death. A word avoided by most. A word which strikes fear and denial. A word which, for some reason, has never bothered me as far back as I can remember. I was in kindergarten when my mom and I drove past a cemetery and I said out loud, "What a waste of good land." My mom, a true Arkansas hillbilly along with all the superstitions accompanying hillbilly life replied, "Don't, speak ill of the dead." I remember thinking, but they are dead, why waste good land when you could do something else with it instead.

Fast forward decades later and I still do not mind speaking about death. Of course, now, death holds a different meaning as I lost my dad when I was 25, then my oldest brother, then mom, and the recent loss of my other brother, Herman, almost 2 months ago. Death is a painful reality in my life. With my dad's death and the death of my brother, Herman, I knew they were dying. It was expected. My mom and my other brother's deaths were out of the blue. While grief and grieving are very much an individual experience, I do think it is much easier to deal with the out the of blue deaths, then the ones which are slow and agonizing.

Anticipatory death is to me a double death or double time of grief. Your loved one is still with you, but everyone's life is forever altered, and all are in a limbo state anticipating and grieving the death to be. And, when your lived one dies, grief begins anew. Below I will share some tips to help you if you are facing the soon-to-be death of a loved one.

As I mentioned above, grieving is an individual experience. Everyone has different emotions and ways of handling those emotions. Therefore, the first thing to know is there is no one right way to experience grief. We should not judge ourselves or others on how they are processing their emotions. Some people become stoic and do not mention the inevitable, while others need to process with every word and tear they have, and others may become angry.

After all of the deaths I have experienced, I can sum of death in one word: "sucks." I mentioned this to someone else and they shared their word with me: "weird." I was interested in what other individuals had to say on this and so I put the question out on social media and was inundated with responses such as: loss, piercing, debilitating, numbing, individual, heavy, darkness, paralyzing, heartbreaking, emptiness, and regret. We all feel what we feel and there is no one right way to feel or to name grief.

Secondly, do what you need to do and say what you need to say so you will have no regrets once the person passes. These are words of wisdom from my mother-in-law to me as my father was dying. I was in my first master's degree and working in Texas while my father was in Arkansas. Every month for a year and a half I would make the drive to visit my dad. It was the best thing I ever did and when my dad passed away I had not one regret.

Thirdly, it is okay to live your life while someone you love is dying. There are very few people who are independently wealthy and can drop everything to spend every moment with their loved one. If your loved one is dying, they will want you to carry on after they die and they only way to do that is to keep on going while they are still alive. Do the best you can with your schedule and responsibilities to see and visit the person and do not beat yourself up over what you cannot do. I know all of my loved ones who have died would tell me, if they could, to keep living, loving, and laughing.

Fourth, be gentle and kind to yourself. You do not need to be a superhero at work, home, or school. You do need to take care of what is necessary, but you can let some things go and say "no" to new things which pop up. If you are particularly emotional one day and do not feel like doing the laundry, then don't if your family still has clothes they can put on. If you do not have the strength to cook a meal, order delivery. It is okay.

Fifth, feel what you need to feel. Do not suppress your feelings. If you are sad, angry, depressed, happy, or any other emotion, just sit with how you feel and just be. Trying to deny feelings just compounds the difficulty of the situation. And, the honest truth is, your feelings are going to come out in some way, shape, or fashion - so do not fight it. Accept your emotions as they come.

Sixth, let other's misguided words roll off of you. People are going to say stupid things to you which they do not realize are completely unhelpful and perhaps are hurtful to you. They mean well. And just remember, you are not perfect either and you have unintentionally said something stupid and hurtful to someone else at some point in your life. What I have found through the various deaths of my family members is who not to talk with about the situation. If your Uncle Larry died and your cousin said well-intentioned but moronic words, I would avoid talking to your cousin while your mother is dying.

Lastly, remember to connect with God. Bring Him your grief, sorrow, and prayers. Bring Him your anger and despair. God knows what it is like to lose a Son. Jesus knew what it was like to lose friends. Jesus knew what it was like to walk toward His own death. The only thing which kept me sane at all, as I was losing my brother and cleaning out my late mother's house at the beginning of the year, was my relationship with God. If you read my last blog on how God provides, I detail how God showed up for me again and again. I believe God's actions were so visible because I kept crying out to Him and inviting Him to be a part of the journey I was experiencing. And, when I felt God nudging me to view my time and interactions with my dying brother as an act of holiness I responded, and God showed up.

Grief and grieving are individual but also an interactive dance between you and the loved one who is dying, between you and others, between you and God. Sometimes it is a group dance where everyone and God are moving in rhythm together. Go with the flow sweet friend. Go with the flow. God is with you and your dying loved one.

Psalm 121:1-2 states, "I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and the mountains." (ESV) The God who created everything including you and your loved ones will be with His creation. You never walk alone, and God will give you the strength you need to keep walking through this difficult time.

Prayer: God of the living and the dying, we call out to you with unimaginable grief and sorrow. We perhaps call out with anger and fear. Hear our cries. Thank you for the beautiful gift of life and the opportunity to walk with our loved one as they journey home. God, help us to see You and feel Your palpable presence. Keep us upright and going when we have nothing left to offer. Thank you, God, for walking with our dying loved ones. There is no better place for them than Your loving arms. Amen.

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