Many adult children think they’re prepared for loss when really they’re hoping against hope; they know what is going to happen, but still cling to the possibility it won’t.
To make matters worse, the world does not stop. You still have a job to maintain, children who need an explanation, and a huge financial undertaking. Even when all you want – all you need – is one day to mourn and reflect, there’s so much that needs to be done. Losing a loved one takes a toll on you and the fact that you’re then expected to make decisions during an emotional time doesn’t help.
However, experts have shown that those who are prepared for loss fare better than those who aren’t. With unexpected deaths and tragic accidents, people are thrown into sudden and all-consuming grief. It’s difficult to cope and easy to sink into depression, denial, or deep grief. But those who are prepared and have taken mental inventory are more readily able to bounce back.
So the question becomes, how can you prepare for loss without being overwhelmed by grief?
1. Make the arrangements
You’ll be in much better shape if you make all the arrangements ahead of time. The earlier the better, but see if you can get the paperwork together for your parent’s estate, their finances (CPA), etc. It can be frustrating, but it’s going to be all the more painful if you need to do it after your loved one passes away.
This step is also critical to do early because you’re more likely to uphold your loved one’s wishes and get them involved in the process.
2. Take care of yourself
Caregivers always forget that their health is deeply impacted by their loved ones. In the haze of making hard decisions during a devastating time, it can be nigh impossible to think about yourself. Many feel guilty thinking about their own needs when someone has passed, but it’s important that you do.
Exercise, eat right, meditate, join a support group, and pamper yourself. There is no shame or guilt in having a spa day to recuperate – you’re doing more than you know already, give yourself a break.
3. Talk about “talking about” the illness
Some elders will want to talk about it, and others will not.
For instance, there’s an old sailing legend called “Fiddler’s Green.” It was a destination long sought after by jaded sailors. When green hands asked how to reach this paradise, they were told to pick up an oar and walk until they reached a town where people asked, “What’s that thing your holding?” Then they’d know they found Fiddler’s Green (i.e. when they reached a town where sailing tools weren’t recognized, they knew they’d found a town devoid of sailing).
In short, Fiddler’s Green did not – and does not – exist. Salts were exhausted of sailing and wanted to fantasize about lands where people didn’t sail at all – and therefore, no one would ask them to sail.
In many cases, terminal illnesses work the same way. They don’t want to talk about cancer or Alzheimer’s, they just want to enjoy the time they have. Talk with your elder about how they want to talk about it. That way, you don’t simply ignore or treat it like taboo.
Finally, the best thing you can do is talk openly and honestly with your elderly parent. Don’t leave things unsaid, say them all so they know you care before they’re gone. Even if you’ve had long-stemming issues, now is the time to put them to bed or let them pass. You don’t want to regret not saying something when they’re gone.