How to Prepare for Loss of a Loved One

Tips for Handling the Heartbreak

It’s said that it’s as natural to die as it is to be born. While there are many guidebooks published for expectant parents who put months into preparing for a birth, there’s no handbook for dealing with the incredibly overwhelming experience of preparing for the loss of a loved one.

Mental health experts call this time anticipatory grief, and it begins days, months, or even years before the death of a loved one. Use this to guide you on steps you may take to prepare for the loss of your loved one and how to understand your feelings so you may process them.

Putting plans in place

As difficult as it may be, it’s essential to address some practical, emotional, and psychological things to make an otherwise chaotic time a little more manageable.

  • Understand their health: One of the best ways to prepare what is before you is to become educated on what your loved one is facing. Talk to your loved one’s doctors or other medical professionals. Learn about their physical condition and what to expect as they deteriorate. Are there limitations, suggested exercises, food restrictions, medication regimens, or other necessary steps for care?
  • Get your affairs in order: Now is the time to see if there is a will and where it is kept. If there is no will, see if it’s possible to have your loved one create one. If that is not practical, explore the protocol of what to do when someone dies without a will. Get the status of all your bills (electric, gas, credit cards, etc.) and make sure they are in someone else’s name other than just your loved one. Take note of all passwords to get into computers and online accounts.
  • Know your loved ones wishes: Find out if they’d like a funeral or memorial service. These are delicate conversations to have with someone but explain that you want to be sure arrangements are made according to their desires. Be respectful of any choices, even if they differ from yours.
  • Say everything: This is the time to express thoughts and feelings. Say, “I love you.” Harriet Beecher-Stowe said, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”  
  • Build a support network: Reach out to friends or family members. Consider joining a support group. Asking for help before your loved one dies gives you a network to tap when that moment comes.
  • Prepare the kids: Children know when something is up. Explain the situation in ways appropriate for their age. Seek out a counselor or therapist if necessary.

Here today

Far too many of us get lost in the days ahead of us instead of recognizing today. We are never promised tomorrow. When a loved one faces death, it’s crucial to get grounded and be present. Enjoy this minute, this hour, and this day. Concentrate on being grateful. Spend quality time looking at photos, sharing stories, playing favorite music, or watching favorite movies. Listen to your loved one in a non-judgmentally way to help them cope.

Take time for self-care

Being a caregiver is difficult and preparing for a loved one’s death is exhausting. Set time aside for physical and emotional health. This includes eating, sleeping, exercising, and tending to your needs.

Recognize that a wave of emotions comes with anticipatory grief that can include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional numbness
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness

These are all normal. Let yourself grieve, get support from friends, and reach out to health professionals. After your loved one has passed, consider taking a wellness retreat or grief retreat to navigate your recovery in a supportive and compassionate space. Thrive Souljourns retreats have a small staff-to-participant ratio, allowing for very individualized attention so you can learn to cope, regain your balance, and get the help you need during a Thrive Retreat.


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