Death is scary for people. They don’t want to think or talk about it. But you must discuss it and make plans. When you do talk about death or chronic illness, everyones’ anxiety will go down. Get it over with and move on to making good memories together.
Go over a living will with your loved one. Find out what kind of care they want at the hospital or at home. Find out what kind of funeral they want and how they want to divide the household things. These are not easy topics, but they are important to get clarity for everyone.
Let go of superstitions that are harmful, like “talking about death will make it happen sooner” or “talking about an illness will make it worse”. That is just not true! The stress of not talking about it is much worse than dealing with it. And please talk about your feelings. If you are sad that they are dying, tell them. Cry with them. Hold them and tell them how much they mean to you. Share with them what you cherish about them and how they have impacted your life.
Talk about the traits you got from them and how you will carry on that legacy. For instance, I learned to sing from my mom. It was wonderful to thank her for teaching me to love music and that I was grateful for inheriting her soprano voice. My dad built thing with wood. I learned at a young age to build things too. I have used this all my life and I’m so grateful to use carpentry tools with ease. He was proud to have taught his daughter these skills. I could change my own oil in my car too, but after losing one of my favorite sweatshirts in the process, I let someone else do it. It is great knowing that I can do it though. So your open grieving also becomes a celebration of your life together.
I have had some clients who tiptoe around the subject of a parent or spouses illness and prognosis. I usually bring it up in a way that may seem abrupt to them at the time, but is necessary to face. And in most cases, they thank me later because they have discussed things that get cleared up and communicated. They avoided misunderstandings and regrets. Honesty is always healing even if it seems too much to deal with at the time.
Anticipatory Grief is seldom discussed, but is so important. You need to feel losses even before they happen, so you can prepare yourself. It will also help your loved one deal with their losses to talk with them about it. There is the loss of memory or mobility. There is loss of independence and autonomy. There is the loss of social activities and hearing, sight, physical wellbeing, comfort. Let them feel these smaller losses and experience the feelings with them. You will be glad you did. Each small loss chips away at the big loss at the end and gives you the ability to get over it much sooner. If you give yourself the opportunity to grieve, you are honoring your loved one. They feel how much you value them in your life. They will intuitively feel relieved to see you moving through feelings instead of shutting down. Even if they don’t like dealing with stuff, they will feel a sense of relief that you are dealing with it. You will feel better too.
So grieve in small doses. It is like a homeopathic remedy or vaccine for the big loss. Your brain and your body will trust you can get through it because you have had some practice with the little losses. Trust me, you will be glad you did. I have so many clients come back and tell me how glad they were to have made the opportunity for the heart to heart conversation with a loved one. Often they would cry together and just as often laugh together too. For when you grieve, you also open up to sharing joy.
In the comments below, share some of your stories about little losses and big ones too.