Getting Ready for Goodbye: Making Death a Conscious Transition

"Tips for Dying" proponent Cat Saunders (photo)

“Death is the last intimate thing we ever do.”  —Laurell K. Hamilton

By Cat Saunders

The end of life can bring difficult territory to navigate. Fortunately, it can also be a time of healing, growth, and sometimes even peace. The key is to have enough information to help you support the person who is dying. Below are seven tips to guide you.

1.  Paperwork: Does your loved one have her end-of-life paperwork in order? If not, you can obtain free, state-of-the art advance planning documents from End of Life Washington.

2.  Unfinished Business: Many people near death seek completion of unresolved issues that may concern the need to express one of these statements: I love you; I forgive you; Please forgive me; Thank you. Let your loved one know that you’re available to talk about anything.

3.  Touch: Many dying people crave touch, if for no other reason than to know—palpably—that they are not alone. Barring medical fragility, offer to hold her hand, give him a foot rub, stroke his forehead or brush her hair. As an alternative, you can simply sit and breathe with your loved one.

4.  Comfort: Do everything in your power to assure that your loved one is not in pain. Hospice and/or a palliative care physician are invaluable allies in providing comfort care. Use them.

5.  Celebrate: Find ways to celebrate life together. Tell stories from your past escapades. Bring photo albums and reminisce. Fill an iPod with her favorite music. Bring animals if allowed.

6.  Call hospice: This tip comes first, last, and in-between. Talk with your doctor about hospice when you first start wondering if it’s time. Medicare needs a doctor’s recommendation to pay for hospice. Once you’re connected with hospice, call them for palliative care, practical support (e.g., hospital beds), and advice about anything related to death and dying.

7.  Compassionate Disposition: These days, more people are paying attention to economical as well as ecological considerations related to body disposition. From home funerals to green burials to carbon offsets for cremation, your loved one may designate preferences. Reputable resources for these services in the greater Seattle area include People’s Memorial Association, Elemental Cremation and Burial, and A Sacred Moment.

This article was published by Natural Awakenings (Seattle Edition; May 2016).

Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).