Donna Authers  |  3 Comments  | 

How to Cope When You Know Your Elderly Parent is Dying Soon

"What can I do to help?" Its the question family members ask most when an elderly parent's death is near. The illness and decline of someone close to you, especially as the end draws near, is one of the most testing times in your life.

While there is no single formula to follow during this bittersweet time, you can take steps that will enable you to provide support to your loved one without feeling unnecessarily frightened or burdened by stress and anxiety. Here are some tips.

"Don't ask me how to help." Although asking how you can help might be your first instinct, instead try to anticipate ways in which you can be useful. Your loved one is embroiled in an immense crisis, and he may not be able to identify or articulate the areas in which he needs help. It's also possible that he might feel uncomfortable asking for aid. So if you see a way in which you can help, just do it. Make a meal. Clean your loved one's bathroom. Your foresight and initiative will be greatly appreciated.

"Don't make me talk about my condition." Remember that your loved one has talked endlessly to doctors about her illness, prognosis, and treatment options. If you were not a part of those meetings, it's okay to ask about general news—but resist the impulse to go into detail. More likely than not, this will unnerve your loved one, make her feel less "normal," and undermine the positive attitude she's striving for. When she's ready to share, she'll initiate the topic.

"Listen to me." When your loved one is ready to talk, be ready to listen—even if the topic is one you'd rather avoid. The person may not need advice, but what he does need is a sounding board to help him think through the pros and cons of his options—someone who won't fall apart when he talks about his fears and concerns. Make your loved one feel comfortable by asking questions and affirming his feelings.

"Help alleviate my fears." If your loved one is harboring fears about the dying process or death, it's important for her to address them. Gently encourage the person to talk about what she is afraid of or apprehensive about, and do what you can to alleviate those worries, whether that involves physical action or affirming words.

"Help me maintain my dignity and control." Although you might want to do everything you can for your loved one from the minute he receives a terminal diagnosis, it's important not to hover over him or prematurely treat him as an invalid. Let him maintain a normal life by doing the things he can for as long as he can. Otherwise, he might feel as though he has lost control of his life. Once your loved one does need aid to get from one day to the next, always be sure to consult his opinion and make sure that his wishes are being followed.

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