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Common End-of-Life Questions to Discuss with Your Loved Ones

When the end of life approaches, many people find themselves at a loss of what to say. How can you sum up the hopes and fears of a lifetime into the limited time you have left?

It’s impossible to predict the way loved ones will respond to the knowledge that they don't have very much time left on this earth. Those who love them best may even be surprised by how their loved ones react. While doctors and nurses can help you cope with the physical changes that accompany the process of dying, they often neglect the emotional changes that also accompany it.

While each person reacts differently to the end of life, many people have the same basic concerns they want to ponder or discuss. While some of these concerns may occur to you as you help your loved ones through a difficult time, others may not. Here are a few of the most common questions people who face death ask themselves and their loved ones.

Why Is This Happening?

We don't know the answer of why bad things happen to good people. Many individuals find comfort in religion or in the love they feel from their families and friends.

Know that although you can't answer the question of why death visits us all, you don't have to. Many people seek an answer of why when they are really trying to express their emotional state. So don't try to explain what's happening to your loved one. Instead, take the opportunity to listen. Your loved one may reveal more about what he or she actually needs during this difficult time. You may discover a way to help your loved one find peace in a difficult situation.

More likely, however, you'll give your loved one a chance to feel heard, loved, and appreciated. At the end of life, many people feel alone and scared. Everyone experiences death on their own, which can be isolating. Spend time listening to your loved one and help him or her feel connected by expression.

What Comes Next?

Once again, most people at the end of life aren't looking for concrete answers. Many religions have conceptions of the afterlife that provide comfort and hope. Your loved one may appreciate hearing your own beliefs about what happens after we die.

In these cases, it helps to be sincere, respectful, and kind. If you feel that your personal beliefs about death will aggravate or frighten your loved one, simply offer love and friendship. Consider the feelings of your loved one above your own in this sensitive time.

Is My Family Taken Care Of?

Many people worry about how their families will fare after they die. This is especially true for family members who have more responsibilities, like parents and grandparents.

If you have time while your loved one is mentally competent, work with him or her to complete a will. A will allows your loved one to communicate wishes, distribute assets, and ensure children are taken care of. In this case, you can ensure a solution to some of your loved one’s final worries.

How Can I Tell My Story?

At the end of life, many people fear they will be forgotten. Give your loved one opportunities to share the story of their life. Try to remember these stories and write them down so your loved one's stories can be continually shared with others.

Many people focus on the story of their illness as they near the end of their lives. Although this story may be distressing for you, allow your loved one to tell it. Going over the process from diagnosis to the present often helps people organize their story, even take control of the narrative. If they feel more in control, they can feel more peaceful as they approach the end.

Have I Left Anything Undone?

Regrets often accompany the end of life. People often feel the need to make peace with mistakes they’ve made or people they've hurt. If your loved one attempts to apologize for something they did or left undone, allow them to say it. You may even feel relief of your own if you have the opportunity to accept an apology and forgive.

If your loved one feels the need to make peace with people who are not physically present, you can help write a letter. At the end of life, your loved one may not be able to distinguish between people who are living and those who have already passed on. Allow your loved one to make peace with those who have gone on before as well.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

The end of life can be difficult not only for your loved ones, but for you. Take care of your own physical, emotional, and mental needs as you care for others. Let yourself rely on friends, family members, hospice counselors, therapists, religious leaders, and any other medical professionals who can help you. While you're there for your loved one, know that you also don't need to go through this difficult time alone.