When a loved one is severely ill, with the very real possibility that they might have to start planning for the end-of-life essentials, then it can be emotionally devastating. However, aside from grief and fear, one of the most common emotional burdens is the feeling of “I wish I could help.” If you’re feeling that, and your loved one is open to your help or even asks you for it, then there is plenty that you can do. Here are just a few things you can do to help a loved one who is severely ill.
Don’t assume what you should do
It’s a very natural and human reaction to be faced with a challenge and to immediately jump to solutions when you have the opportunity. You have to try and fight that urge, however. Don’t be compelled to jump into action and start doing what you think you should. Rather, listen for your loved one to talk about their needs, making it clear that you’re there to help in whatever ways you can. You also need to be realistic about what you can and can’t do to help. Some people simply aren’t in a position to do certain things, after all.
Offering the care they need
One of the things you should try to talk about as early as you can is how your loved one is going to get the care and attention that they need on a day-to-day basis. If they’re not spending their time in the hospital, then it is likely that they are going to need round-the-clock care. This is where you should be wary of how much you take on. You can offer to care for them if you truly do have the time and attention to offer them, and respite care can help, but there are also palliative care services if you have other responsibilities that are going to take you time or are otherwise worried you cannot give them your best.
Helping them arrange their finances
How much you can get involved in the financial affairs of your loved one will depend very much on your relationship with them and how much they trust you. However, if they’re concerned about what they’re leaving for their own loved ones and how, for instance, funeral costs, then you can help them choose between the options available and facilitate their decisions. In some cases, it might be too late to invest in life insurance, but in others, they might have enough time to do so. Otherwise, you’re more likely going to be looking at working with an estate lawyer and setting up a trust.
Planning for what happens after
If a loved one is looking at the end of their life, then aside from all of the practical considerations of what is to be done with their assets, they might also have some thoughts about how they want their loved ones to say goodbye to them. If they ask you to help, then you may be inclined to agree and you should have a funeral director in mind to help you carry out those final wishes. Talk to them about what kind of memorial they might want, their preferences between burial, cremation, and other options, and more. Of course, you shouldn’t be the first to broach this topic with your loved one. Only find out their preferences if they are the person to bring it up and clearly want to get into the details, as it can naturally be difficult for any person to plan their own funeral.
Making decisions in their stead
If your loved one is deteriorating to the point that they cannot make decisions for themselves as well as they used to, or they anticipate that this is likely to happen, then there may need to be a serious conversation about who is going to be making those decisions for them. This can include decisions on their health care, their finances, and more. In most cases, you’re not going to need more than a general power of attorney, which is the easiest to set up. However, it might be important to arrange for this as soon as you can, should your loved one want it, as it can be too late to set it up when they have already lost the capability of making decisions.
Talk to them about crucial aspects of end-of-life care
If your loved one is putting their end-of-life care into your hands, then it may be a good idea to get their feelings on some of the key decisions you may need to make. It can be hard to discuss some of these and it may be unfortunate if you have to make decisions because they are unwilling to discuss their preferences, but you should be ready for these decisions. This can include things like whether you should talk with the doctor about putting a do-not-resuscitate order through for them, as well as whether they would want mechanical ventilation, tube feeding or hydration, to be hooked up to a hemodialysis machine, or otherwise.
Be there to listen
It can difficult to come to terms with the fact that a loved one may be dying or may anticipate that they are dying. To that end, you should learn about anticipatory grief and see if you might need help processing your own feelings. For one, it’s important to take care of your own mental health in all of this. But it’s also important that if you are trying to put yourself in a place of support that you are ready for the difficult emotions that can come when they want to talk about dying. They need someone to listen to them and you can offer a lot of ease to their concerns simply by being there.
Helping them say goodbye
If your loved one is facing a terminal illness or one that is likely to be terminal, then you may have to help them deal with the reality of facing the end of their life. This can include, in part, a desire to exchange final words with people that have been important to them. While a terminal illness does not have many “silver linings,” it does offer the opportunity to say goodbye to people, and you can help them by asking if there is anyone they would like to get in touch with. This way, you can help them rest a little easier that nothing has gone unsaid.
When someone is having a health crisis, they still have the everyday concerns of modern life to deal with. This can include getting the kids to school, putting dinner on the table, paying the bills, and so on. While you can and should offer to help, you should also be aware that a lot of people aren’t going to take you up on that offer when you put them in the position of voicing it. For the smaller things, you should just go ahead and take it off their plate. This way, not only do you help give them some peace of mind, but you make it very clear that you’re serious that you’re there to help.
How much responsibility you decide to take on for a loved one when they are very ill is up to you. However, you might find that if you step into the position of helping them, others will expect you to keep up with it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, yourself, when you need it.