Anticipating the Death of a Family Member [Checklist]

It can be disorienting when you suspect (or have been told) that the death of a family member is approaching. I call the time between when you know someone will die and when they actually do “the floating time.”

It’s hard to know what to do after you’ve been told there’s nothing to be done, but there are some actions you can take now to make “after” a little easier.

  1. Consider hospice early.

    Hospice nurses and home care professionals can comfort and educate the whole family as things progress (and it’s covered by Medicare and most insurance plans.)

  2. Make amends or say goodbye.

    It can help both you and the person dying if you say goodbye. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Go with whatever way seems natural to you. (You’re not alone if nothing about this feels natural!)

  3. Let close friends and relatives know what’s happening.

    Let close friends and family know if and how they can come to say their goodbyes. Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re not accepting calls or visits if you want privacy.

  4. Try to remove your expectations.

    Everyone will handle this differently. Don’t judge your family member, yourself, or others.

  5. Consider travel logistics

    If you don’t live nearby, think through logistics for getting there when the family member dies. How will you travel, who will cover at work, watch the kids, house, pets, etc.?

  6. Discuss arrangements for a burial or cremation.

    There are many decisions that need to be made quickly when someone dies. If you have time to do some of this planning in advance, take advantage of it.

  7. Discuss roles and assign tasks in advance.

    If you have people who can help with some of the work that needs to be done to plan and execute a funeral or memorial, discuss roles in advance. Who will make calls, plan the service, handle other arrangements, etc.?

  8. Locate important papers.

    Find the will or trust, military service records, the deed to burial property, and a copy of funeral or cremation pre-arrangement contracts.

  9. Make a call list.

    Who will you want to inform when the death occurs? Prepare a call list of people to notify when the time comes.

  10. Prepare an obituary or memorial statements.

    You may need some details from other family members or friends to write an obituary or prepare a eulogy. Have a conversation with your family or those closest to the dying person to gather the information.

  11. Gather pictures for a visual memorial.

    If you plan to share photos or videos at a funeral or memorial service, this is a good time to find them and choose the ones you’ll use.

  12. Comfort your loved one and let them know it is ok to go.

    Even in advanced illness, a person may hold on longer when they feel they have unfinished business. It may be a kindness to ‘release’ them by letting them know it is ok to go.

  13. Ask for help if you need it.

    Call the hospice counselor, a therapist, close friend, or a clergy member if you are not coping well or need assistance with your grief.

I’m sorry you’re going through this. If I missed something, let me know and together we can help make this a little easier for others.

Take Care,

Karen Purze

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Karen Purze

About the Author

Karen Purze

Karen Purze is the author of Life In Motion: A Guide for Gathering Life’s Vital Details, a workbook to help people get their affairs in order. She blogs about end-of-life and emergency planning at lifeinmotionguide.com.

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