Preparing for a Loved One’s End-of-Life Care
These six steps will help you prepare for your loved one’s end-of-life care so that, together, you can make informed decisions.
One of the consequences of loving people in this life is that we must also say goodbye to many friends and family members before we feel ready. Preparing for the death of someone we love is heart-wrenching. Many decisions must be made to honor them with the end-of-life care they deserve. If you are preparing for the death of a loved one, below you’ll find six steps to help you come to terms with the situation and make informed decisions.
Step 1: Learn About End-of-Life Care Options
Before you make any determinations or speak to your loved one about their wishes, it may be helpful to better educate yourself about the various key treatments for end-of-life care. The medical profession has many tools available to prolong life. It becomes a question of what your loved one feels they can tolerate. Many aggressive and rigorous treatments are available, but it comes down to what standard of living your loved one wants to enjoy to make achieving a longer life worthwhile. If you don’t know much about treatments like advanced life support, intubation, or feeding tubes, it makes sense to read up on them before engaging in a profound discussion with your loved one or family members.
Step 2: Start the Difficult Conversations
Whether your loved one is ill or elderly, it’s always difficult to discuss death. Our culture often tends toward denial rather than facing end-of-life issues head-on. However, loving someone includes helping them through this most difficult transition, so open communication is key. If your loved one already has particular preferences about their end-of-life care, listen respectfully and ask questions to help clarify needed details. If they are unsure what they want or don’t want, be willing to share the research you discovered and help them come to the decisions they feel comfortable with. Of course, their doctor may also have important information to add to the conversation.
Step 3: Understand Palliative and Hospice Care and When to Ask for Them
Palliative care will allow your loved ones to decide how they want to be cared for if they suffer a progressive illness. It usually involves teams of medical practitioners who can address physical symptoms and spiritual and emotional ones. An important thing to understand is that palliative care can happen concurrently with curative care, meaning it’s never too soon to take advantage of these benefits for your loved one. Often, palliative care eventually leads to hospice care. It offers comfort care only and is only appropriate if your loved one has a prognosis of six months or less. If hospice care is of interest to your loved one, they may be able to choose to receive it in their own home, in a hospital, or a dedicated hospice care facility. Both palliative and hospice care mean your loved one will be supported by a team of caring professionals who understand their end-of-life preferences.
Step 4: Be Proactive in Communicating With Doctors
When your loved one is suffering from a serious illness, their doctors must share all the information necessary to make informed decisions. If you are helping your loved one navigate this challenging time, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for more information. For instance, you may need to understand more about the side effects of various surgeries or medications. Your loved one may also wish to know the anticipated outcome of treatment versus no treatment. These types of questions are critical if your loved one has concerns about the quality of life as they near the end. Whether you’re the one asking the questions or your loved one is taking the lead, be sure to take notes on all the information presented so that you can review it together as decisions arise.
Step 5: Research Facilities in Your Loved One’s Community
If your loved one may require assisted living or nursing home care as their health deteriorates, it’s helpful to know your options. Attempt to learn about the culture of each facility, as well as what level of patient care they provide. Make a list of questions to ask each facility, and record the answers for easy reference later on. While it’s tempting to focus solely on care, be sure to explore cost also. It’s important to understand whether your loved one’s insurance will cover some expenses or whether they must pay out-of-pocket.
Step 6: Commit to Being Your Loved One’s Advocate
Even if your loved one has thoughtfully engaged in conversations about their preferences and come to decisions about their end-of-life care, they may harbor fears that their wishes will not be met. Commit to remaining an advocate for them throughout their end-of-life so they can feel assured that someone is helping to facilitate the specific end-of-life care they deserve. It takes an emotional toll, to be sure. However, there is also beauty in being the person who helps guide your loved ones through end-of-life with the love and respect they deserve.
Final Thoughts on Preparing for a Loved One’s End-of-Life Care
There is nothing easy about preparing for the death of someone you love. The steps above require emotional investment and time, and the conversations involved are both critical and difficult. As you navigate these challenges, try to remember that the end of life can be a beautiful and freeing time, too. As you work through the above steps, make room in your heart for creating new memories and for helping your loved one achieve a sense of peace as their end of life approaches.