When we we talk about coping with the loss of a parent, most often it is in the context of dealing with life after a parent dies. But what about managing the death of a parent and how to help them during the process? Start with this help from the experts in aging well.
My Parent is Dying, How Can I Get Through This?
by Lisa Laney, MSW, CMC – Aging Life Care Association® Member
Our lives today seem to be getting so very complicated. Confusion and anxiety bubble up as we try to manage what had been, in history of humankind, normal and understandable life transitions.
The death of a parent is a tremendous loss and shifts us into a new life chapter — that of being more senior ourselves, regardless of our age. We feel the responsibility of making good decisions, including decisions around the care of our parent as they are dying.
Most likely you already juggle many responsibilities – your home, work, perhaps children still in the home, your own finances, and on and on. How do you take on the added responsibility of ramping up your knowledge about the foreign subject of care of the dying, while participating and guiding the most appropriate support for your parent in their last chapter?
Following are some “to-do’s” and questions to consider – a toolkit of sorts.
- Consider professional assistance. Know, first, that employing an adjunct who is an experienced professional will provide you with reassurance as the journey continues. The care of a loved one involves many turns in the river and there is no prescribed one-size-fits all process. An Aging Life Care Professional (sometimes called a geriatric care manager) can assist with unforeseen issues as they arise while also providing as a boots-on-the-ground “first responder” of sorts, or just as a consultant for you by phone should you need. Through a thorough assessment an Aging Life Care Manager can help with:
- Securing and managing in-home care providers
- Obtaining necessary durable medical equipment
- Determining if any home modifications are needed
- Learn the difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care. Don’t hesitate obtaining the appropriate service for your parent. Some areas have multiple providers, so do your homework.
- Research the diagnosis of your parent. For example, if it is Congestive Heart Failure, ask the physician what to expect and read materials about the course of this disease. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland is a good read in this realm. Don’t be afraid. To learn the expected process of the disease allows you to prepare yourself (and your parent) for the upcoming needs.
- Have detailed conversations with your parent about what they do or do not want at the end of their life. Questions to ask:
- To die at home?
- To die in a hospice facility?
- To be alert or if pain medicines are required to be medicated even if it means they are less alert?
- Are there people they do or do not want present as they decline?
- Ask your parent if they would agree to have your contact information on their physician’s HIPAA document so that you can have direct conversations with their doctor.
- Consider setting up an online tool (such as http://lotsahelpinghands.com) to organize well-wishers who wish to provide tangible support.
- Get a grasp of your parent’s finances. If they have an estate planner, make contact as this person will be of great support. Other questions to ask that help determine resources for covering costs of care and funeral expenses:
- Does your parent have a long-term care insurance plan?
- Was your parent a veteran?
- Have they purchased a prepaid burial plan?
- Consider securing a schedule of counseling visits to help you manage this upcoming loss while at the same time managing life – your own and the others who depend upon you. In this journey, taking care of your own self is just as important as caring for your parent.
An Aging Life Care Manager can provide you with direction on any or all of the above. Their knowledge of local resources and providers can greatly reduce the amount of time (and stress) you spend searching around to secure the best supports for you and your parent. This professional can also provide white glove communication between Hospice, in-home care providers, physicians, and family.
In fact, it is prudent to consider holding a Care Conference between these parties early on – and continue as needed – to assure all involved understand the vital nuances of the specific needs of your parent. The Aging Life Care Manager can serve as the facilitator for such meetings and send summary emails to the interested/involved family members as allowed by your parent.
With care and support, you can navigate and live through this difficult chapter in your life.
About the author: Lisa Laney, MSW, CMC is the owner of Mountain Premier Care Navigation in Asheville, North Carolina, and has worked with the aging population in the healthcare system since 1988. She serves as the facilitator for the Asheville Parkinson’s Support Group and is on the Board of Directors for the Aging Life Care Association. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook.