How to Prepare for the Death of a Loved One

Four Parts:Telling OthersSpending Time TogetherDealing with PracticalitiesPracticing Self Care

Coping with death is never easy to do, and no matter how much you prepare, it's always a very emotional and sad time. This article explains some of the ways you can make it slightly easier.

Part 1
Telling Others

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    Make sure that everyone in the family knows that this loved one will be passing soon. This will allow for all family members and close friends to say their good-byes and prevent family from feeling as though the truth has been hidden from them.
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    Let children in the family visit the loved one. Explain to them what is soon going to happen. Speak to children with clarity and respect for their dignity. There is sometimes a tendency to gloss over the realities of the situation, yet children are more understanding and can cope better with the realities of life than many adults give them credit for. Indeed, it is often the child who has the insights that calm or soothe the adult. Things to bear in mind include:
    • Don't tell a child that the loved one has gone away/is only sleeping. This white lie can make a child/children afraid of going to bed or they may believe that the person has gone away for a walk/holiday when they haven't. Sugarcoating the reality can make your child/children resent and distrust you.
    • Be honest with your child/children but use answers in an age-appropriate way. For example, your child is very young and asks "How did grandad die?" You could say grandad had a naughty boo-boo in his head, he was very poorly, he didn't get better, his body stopped working, he died and rests in a very special place. When the child is old enough to understand you can say that boo-boo in his head was a brain tumor and the special place he rests at is called (you can tell your child/children where the grave/stone is) and grandad loved you very much.
    • Children are not morbid––they are naturally curious. Respond with facts rather than emotions (it is most unhelpful to accuse a child of being morbid). If a child asks what happens after a person dies, be honest and say if the body is buried it goes through a stage called decomposing, the body rots and then body becomes just a skeleton. If they ask what cremation is, say the body is burned in a special way with very high heat and becomes ashes. Encourage children to talk about any aspect of the loss as sometimes children can find themselves misguided by other children and less helpful adults. Setting to rights any misunderstandings can help them feel better also.
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    Keep far-away family members posted on the health of your loved one. Communicate through e-mail, telephone, text or a social networking site. Times of loss can put great strain on family relationships and often, you may not want to talk about it. But remember that the loss will effect everyone and you need to stay connected or you might find family members drifting away.

Part 2
Spending Time Together

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    Sit and talk to your loved one as much as possible. If you have regrets, or need to let him/her know something that you've kept in for years, use this time to let them know. Consider the effect what you have to say may have on your loved one and , if it is something you think will upset them more than it will matter to you to tell them, then it might be best to keep it under your hat. You don't want to stress him/her out more than they already are. They may want to know about what you, or your children's plans for the future are and telling them this could provide comfort.
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    Talk to your loved one about death. Although this may seem insensitive, you could if he or she is scared. You may be at peace once they're gone, knowing that they weren't scared to go. And if your loved one is scared, help him or her come to terms with their fears. If there's something they really want to do, and they're able- then get out there and do it! Live for today, so that you can remember it tomorrow.
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    Tell your loved one that you will miss them, and say, "I love you" often. Say it like you mean it and remember how they respond. Nothing is more important than those three words and it's something you can hang onto in the future.
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    Tell your loved one if/ when you're scared, confused, or sad. They may just tell you some things that ease your mind, and will help with this process a little.
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    Take your direction from the loved one. Some may want to talk about death, funeral plans, etc., while others do not. Don't presume that you know what they want or need - ask. This is no time to play guessing games!
    • If a loved one pretends he or she isn't dying, and everything is going to be okay, realize that this is a defense mechanism and is misplaced hope. While it is important to be receptive to the loved one's approach to death, do not let this fantasy cause tension and problems for you and other family members. This may be the one time where it is important to not play along but to make it clear in as kind and caring a way as possible, that the loved one has a terminal illness which impacts other people too. Things are not going to be all right and much time can be wasted pretending otherwise, when sharing memories, dealing with the loved one's wishes and spending quality time together should be occurring instead.
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    Gather family members in the room and talk about old times together. Everyone will have that memory of their loved one smiling and being content, or listening, remembering all of those moments. It will be a peaceful memory to look back on as well: He or she was surrounded by family, that all loved this person very much, and what could be better than having your family there, when they needed you the most?
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    Make sure you say everything that you want to say. When they're gone, they're gone and you can't bring them back.

Part 3
Dealing with Practicalities

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    Evaluate the alternatives of home care, hospice care, nursing home care, and hospital care. Ask the loved one who is undergoing the dying process which alternative would be most appealing to him or her, and do your best to accommodate wishes. Bear in mind that costs and level of care differentiate with each option, and should be explored in greater detail before making a final decision.
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    Start making burial/funeral arrangements. However, unless your loved one asks about it, do not tell them. They may think that you are "doing them in."

Part 4
Practicing Self Care

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    Be prepared for a range of emotions to sweep over you. Some emotions may occur once, some may revisit time and time again. Typical thoughts and emotions will include anger, fear, worry, a sense of unfairness, resentment, exhaustion, hope, joy at shared memories, wishful thinking, relief, sadness, despair and more. There is no right or wrong way to feel or think and you may find that some emotions cloud your ability to think clearly.
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    Know where you can get support. Many charities offer helplines specialising in grief or distress or are linked to a specific illness. To find these for your county, try an internet search, or use the ones which are provided to you on leaflet/ guides which may be given to you at the hospital/ hospice or around for you to take. Know that there are always options and that, in the end, many of these feelings will fade. You will get through this!
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    Allow for times of sorrow. Crying is normal and it is better to let it out than keep things bottled up. When the tears come, let them out.
    • Do cry with your child/children and do talk about the dead person. It shows your child/children that you never forget about that person and that it is okay to cry, show anger, and express feelings and grief. Remember people grieve in different ways.
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    Cherish the memories. Years from now, it may be the little things that matter, like their favorite color, their favorite dessert, etc. Hold onto these memories in ways that are meaningful to you. You might like to ask your loved one to write down a favorite recipe or two, to share his or her favorite photos, to recall a vacation spent together as a story on a recorded device for you, etc.
    • If you feel that other people are insisting on remembering your loved ones using rituals, approaches and concrete actions that don't align with how you wish to remember your loved one, thank them for their suggestions kindly but remind them that everyone has their own way of remembering others and that you'll be keeping to yours.
    • You may find it easiest to put things away that will be too hard to see, right after your loved one's death. A pair of slippers, a tie, even his/her favorite pen. Take them out when you feel as though you can handle it, but keep their memory alive with you.
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    Take time out now and then. You need your energy and focus to stay on track. Occasionally this means you need to get away from what is all too real and what is happening. Give yourself short breaks to take some time out from the emotional depths that which bereavement brings. Accept that, for a while, you may feel distracted and out of focus. That's normal because your mind is still busy focusing on more important things. Give yourself time...
    • Voice your worries, sadness and feelings to a pet or a close friend. Anyone or anything which will listen could help release your feelings, but don't expect them to take them away. If you don't feel you can talk to family/ friends then try a work college or anybody else. Many people can be very understanding.
    • Go to a park or a dinner or just out with a couple of friends and relatives, and relax for a while. Continue leisure activities and sports when you are comfortable and re-establish your old routine. Don't feel guilty for doing it.
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    Consider seeing a therapist during the care process. Going to counseling before the loved one dies can help to prepare you. It is also an important bridge from this person's presence to absence in your life. If necessary, continue seeing the counselor after the loved one dies. Talking freely and openly to them will help you let feelings out; they won't judge you, as their job is to help you.


  • Know that it is not your fault.
  • You can make a memory book of your loved one. This can be especially good for small children who will not have a memory of the loved one when they grow older. In this book, keep things such as photos, journal entries, mementos, sayings that your loved one always said, special recipes, etc. Such a document will forever keep their memory alive, even when it's handed down several generations.
  • If you're planning on planting a garden or a tree in your yard,as a memory for your loved one, tell him or her before they go.
  • Have respect for the sorrow others are feeling too. Others close to your loved one are going through the same thing you are.
  • Make space to spend time with friends and family, and listen to their stories too.
  • Listen to others when they voice their problems to you.
  • Everybody has the right to vent; especially in an emotional crisis such as the process of death.
  • Sit down with your loved one and make a scrapbook to remember them by. Include their favorite color, a poem they received from their spouse, etc. any nice little things to make you smile once they are gone. The experience will give you peace of mind, allowing you to remember the little things that you enjoyed with your loved one.
  • Respect the wishes of the very young as much as those of others.
  • It is the child's/children's choice to attend the funeral/visit the grave/stone or not, as soon as they are able to offer a genuine point of view. Avoid preventing children from attending, especially if they can back up their reasoning for wanting to attend as this can breed resentment between you and them.
  • Don't be offended, don't tell them off or force them to do so if they say no and/or they are not comfortable doing so.
  • Your reaction matters and can carve deep memories that are either positive or negative in the children's minds.
  • If you have faith, then make use of it! If you believe in an afterlife, then take comfort that fact that they're there and that you will see them again. The "better place" cliche is overused, but it's true.
  • Take comfort in the fact that your loved one's suffering will stop. There will be no more pain.
  • Always visit the family of the deceased person and give them all support they need, be it emotional support, financial support, ect.


  • Do not talk too much. Try to be receptive to the person's needs. Sometimes a dying person will not want to talk or even listen to others talking, just be there for them in a mutual silence. This can be a very spiritual time.
  • Do not make light of death; don't try to cheer people up by making fun of them. However, do be aware that morbid-focused humor will often ooze out unintended as a coping mechanism, so don't feel shame or shame others if this release occurs now and then. See it for what it is––a way to cope and get back to being respectful.
  • Do not criticize the crying, grieving loved ones or the one who is ill; it is disrespectful. Loss of a loved one is a very solemn time. Show respect. And even if you feel impatience or relief, do not pass this on to others at the time of death; such emotions are awkward and convey disrespect.

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Categories: Death Funerals and Bereavement