**Warning: naughty language ahead!
“What the eff!?” is repeatedly what I hear from folks who are in the midst of helping a loved one who’s dying.
“What the eff is happening?”
“What the eff do I do?”
“How can I help him/her or myself?”
These are all awesome and super important questions to ask when we’re thrown into the world of death and the dying process.
Here are some tips to help us address these questions, help us help a loved one and ultimately help ourselves.
What the Eff is Happening?
Well, someone significant to us is dying. But dying is so much more than the physical deterioration of a person we care for—there is also a mental, emotional and spiritual component to death (for us and our loved ones alike).
When someone is dying, we lose the relationship we once had with that person, as well as the hopes and dreams we had with them for the future. It’s a life-altering event, and it begins long before any physical absence actually occurs.
What’s happening is a shitload of change. Roles will change, the person in question will change (physically and mentally if not otherwise), our priorities and life as we once knew it will all likely change as well.
A helpful way to start to navigate the pending changes is learning about our loved one’s condition, so we can ask the tough questions and get some facts. Keeping our heads in the sand will not serve us, or the dying, in the long run.
What are the common symptoms of their condition and treatment? How long are they expected to live? What are their treatment options? We should educate ourselves, so we can get a sense as to how, when and why these changes will occur and how they will impact us and our loved one. And keep in mind that a sense of such change is all we’ll get, as the process of death and dying is unique and unpredictable.
What the Eff Can I Do?
Death and dying are scary, and we live in a “deathphobic” society which demonizes this natural occurrence and makes our fear of death worse than it ought or need be.
One of the best ways we can be of help to a loved one facing death is to be present—physically, emotionally and spiritually—to be real and be around. Acknowledge that big, ugly “death” elephant in the room, bring it to light and talk it out. Talk about death and dying, what it means to us personally and to our loved one. Pretending it isn’t happening can be extremely isolating for the dying (and for us!). Naming our fears helps to alleviate their power.
Talk about any fears and concerns, and create space for the dying to do the same (he or she will likely have a lot of fear to move through as death draws nearer). Talk about our hopes and dreams, as well as the hopes and dreams our loved one had for him or herself. Just talk. Honestly, openly and authentically. It ain’t easy for anyone—but it is so worth it.
If it seems too difficult to start this convo alone, or our loved one isn’t open to any of the aforementioned discussions, consider reaching out to a counselor, coach or chaplain who can assist before or during the discussion.
It can also help to do some reading on death and dying prior to this discussion (or at anytime). One of my favourite books is The Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying.
How the Eff Do I Survive This?
The going is gonna get tough. For real. One of the best ways to help ourselves during this difficult time is to ask for help. Not just thinking about asking for help, or wishing people would “just help already,” but like, actually asking.
For many of us, asking for help is like walking out of the house with a big sign across our chest that reads: “I don’t have my shit together, so I can’t do this on my own.” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Asking for help takes courage, and in my experience, it is the single best way to help us get our shit together.
Asking for help comes in all forms and varieties. It can be as simple as asking a friend to sit with us in silence, or as profound as asking our partner to help perform an at-home funeral. Big or small, we shouldn’t go through this alone, and having people we love and trust around to help support us will make the process all the less painful. Sheryl Sandberg coined the term “lean in,” but when it comes to death and dying I say “lean on.”
Whenever I know a big loss is coming up—like when my mom moved into hospice—I ask for help as soon as possible. A while back, a wise owl suggested I email my closest friends (i.e., “my Dream Support Team”) and ask them for help, in very specific terms, before a loss. This allows me to have a clearer sense as to what my needs are (because I have to set it out) and how my friends can help. The bonus is that it results in my friends feeling empowered as to how to best help me in times of loss and grief, and it gives them an opportunity to be clear about if and how they can be of help to me. The first time I asked my friends for help dealing with a loss, it was one of the hardest and most vulnerable things I’ve ever done, but it paid off big time!
For anyone interested in a template for sending an email to your Dream Support Team (and/or how to choose who those folks should be) just shoot me a note. I gotchu!
And there you have it.
Dealing with the impending death of a loved one is the fucking pits. No way around that. But addressing the matter head on, showing up (for ourselves and the dying) and leaning on trusted loved ones for support can make a world of difference through this trying time.
Author: Rachel Ricketts
Image: Courtesy of Author
Editor: Travis May