Abstract: There are things we can do to prepare for the death of a beloved—and the grief that accompanies it. In this two-part series on preparing for the death of a beloved I offer tips to help navigate the coming death. Part 1 covers taking care of everyone else. Part 2 covers taking care of yourself. Material is condensed from my upcoming book, “The Afterlife Is a Party: What People and Animals Teach Us About Love, Reincarnation, and the Other Side.”
Preparing for Death and Grief
You’ve just learned a family member is dying. Whether they’re human or animal, the feeling is the same: you’re stunned by grief and struggling to decide how to help yourself, your family, and your dying beloved get through it. In this two-part series on preparing for death and grief, we’re covering how to prepare others, and yourself, for a beloved’s death.
Yes, it’s hard to say goodbye, harder yet to live the goodbye, but it’s possible. Be practical, careful, sensible, loving, wildly intuitive, spiritual—and follow these tips.
You’re a Family
Remember that you’re a family, even if it’s just you. Yes, the dying person or animal comes first, as any proper hospice model should tell you, but prepare the family by seeing to individual needs. Barring a sudden, unexpected death, they all know it’s coming. Guilt, worry, concern, fear, and jealousy can all show up—and amazing compassion as well.
Yes, ask for help, but be clear that anyone can refuse—and some will. It’s interesting, painful, and exhilarating to see who shows up, who doesn’t, and what new connections you make. People often mean well, but our culture is big on avoiding feelings, and dying well requires feelings. Your community will feel with you. The rest, well, you’ll be surprised by those who don’t, especially when it’s dying animals. Remember: that’s their mind-set, not yours. Forgive and move on. Or out.
Do Your Homework
Help yourself and your beloveds understand and accept the dying process. Figure out what it takes to care for your dying and what makes sense, decide what to do, and see that it gets done. Do whatever you have to do so you and yours can live with it afterward.
You and your family, human and animal, get to decide what death looks like, from how you meet it to how you carry on afterward. Nobody else. Yes, listen to others, but only hang on to what makes sense to you and to your dying beloveds in the moment. That’s all any of us can do—and all the dying really ask of us.
Having experienced my brother’s death with absolutely no warning, I’m a strong advocate for preparing children for their own and a sibling’s death—for any death, human or animal. It’s gut wrenching but necessary. For example, did you know that a common feeling among surviving children is that they were responsible for a sibling’s death, even if it was an illness? Learn from my unnecessary and debilitating angst: I knew better, even at nine, but that peculiar, unearned guilt haunted me for at least fifteen years. You have to choose how you face dying and death, and if you’re a parent, you’re choosing for everyone. So wise up.
With luck you’ll get to accompany an animal through old age. What can you manage, afford, and stand? How do you explain it to your animal, the family, and yourself? Before you even get an animal, consider how and why your family will walk that last road together, because it always ends one way—in heartbreak. If that makes you flinch, excellent: it means you’re thinking. You’ll figure out a way to get through it, because that’s what life is all about. Life with an aging animal is magnificent. You will experience mystery, frustration, exhaustion, and grief, but if you’re looking for grace in action, this is it.
Get a Great Team
Dying can and should be a community event, starting with your own support team. That includes your medical and veterinary team, spiritual counselors, social workers, psychotherapists, intuitives, energy healers, hospice and grief-support professionals, ministers, family, friends, and sitters—yes, people who can be with your dying so you can get a break (and a nap). Always remember that the team is your partner, but you and your dying beloved are in charge. If you’re in charge, either as the animal owner or as the medical power of attorney, you make the decisions for and with your dying, if they are lucid. Fire anyone who thinks otherwise.
I believe your team should include an energy healer and a professional intuitive, and not just because I am one. While there are many energy healing modalities to choose from, you can also put hands on your beloved and yourself and invite healing energy to support the dying and those left behind. There are also many intuitives out there, but not many who are practical, spiritual, and well balanced, which is what you need.
If you are a healer and/or an intuitive, hire someone else: you need a compassionate, objective outsider. I hired an intuitive for the deaths of each of my animals. She gave me additional perspective on the tough issues and enriched my family’s last days together. I know that neither I nor my beloveds would have done as well without that loving woman who confirmed my own insights, added others, helped us say goodbye, and was simply there as I howled with grief and loss. You hear the medical from the medical team, what you want (or not) from family and friends, what you fear from yourself, and what love has to say from your heart—and an intuitive and healer.
These are the basics of helping your living and dying beloveds. Use your common sense, intuition, and loving heart to add to them so when the time comes, true grace surrounds all of you. Next month: tips for self-care as a beloved dies.
Robyn M Fritz MA MBA CHt hosts the OM Times radio show, “The Practical Intuitive: Mind Body Spirit for the Real World.” An intuitive and spiritual consultant and certified past life regression specialist, she is an award-winning author whose next book is “The Afterlife Is a Party: What People and Animals Teach Us About Love, Reincarnation, and the Other Side.” Find her at RobynFritz.com.