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Mentally preparing for death and dying

Last Updated at May 27th 2022
When you get a life-limiting illness diagnosis or are older and become very unwell, it can be hard to come to terms with the reality that you are approaching death.

Key points:

  • Palliative care not only supports you and provides pain management during the end of life stages, it also provides mental, emotional and holistic support
  • Taking stock of your affairs and getting everything in order can be a way to mentally prepare as well
  • You can utilise palliative support services for grief, bereavement and coming to terms with your illness and death and dying
Two people holding hands
Palliative care can provide you with the tools and support you need to come to terms with your illness and eventual death. [Source: iStock]

You may even start receiving palliative care to help manage the pain of your illness or to receive end of life care.

Palliative care provides important assistance, support, care, advocacy and education to people with a terminal illness as well as their family and friends.

An important part of the palliative care role includes mentally and emotionally preparing you for what is to come.

Chief Executive Officer of peak body Palliative Care Australia (PCA), Camilla Rowland, explains that specialist palliative care teams are trained in supporting people through this process.

"There is no one journey towards the end of life, and there is no one journey to prepare for this," says Ms Rowland.

"The value of palliative care is that it provides a holistic form of care that considers the whole person (body, mind and spirit) and also includes care and support for family and loved ones.

"When a person is coming close to the end of life, there can certainly be new and old questions about death and dying."

PCA provides advice on what you can do to prepare yourself and how palliative care can support you in this journey.

Open up dialogue

The first step is opening up conversation about death and dying, and getting a full understanding of how palliative care can assist you currently and during the dying process. You can learn more about this in our 'The difference palliative care can make in the dying process' article.

It can be important to talk to someone, whether a part of your palliative care team or family and friends, about your concerns, fears, last-minute wishes, and potentially even bucket list items.

You may find that you want to continue living your day to day life while you still can, including work, social activities, or current responsibilities, and how you can make sure this happens.

If you have engaged in palliative care services early into a terminal diagnosis, you may have more time to mentally prepare yourself for the future and ensure you can live your daily life as comfortably and supported as possible.

Palliative care can provide you with the tools and support you need to come to terms with your illness and eventual death.

Your specialist palliative care team is a multidisciplinary team that can include doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, as well as spiritual and pastoral care support, so you will have support for your medical, mental and spiritual needs.

"Talking about dying is hard. And it is sad. However, death is inevitable and the better prepared we are for our death, the easier it will be on the ones we leave behind," explains Ms Rowland.

It can also be ideal to talk with your family and friends about the future for that extra support and reassurance. You should reach out for help and guidance when you need it.

During this period in your life, you may also find yourself reaching out for spiritual support and connection.

Ms Rowland adds, "With more conversation comes better support for people nearing the end of life, and their loved ones."

Getting your affairs in order

When receiving palliative care, it can be an opportune time to reevaluate your wishes and start getting your affairs in order for when you pass.

Many people find themselves reflecting on their life during the palliative care stage, and you may rethink your current estate plan.

Your end of life wishes are important and can be very dependent on your values and life experiences.

You should be having conversations with your specialist palliative care team, lawyer, family and friends about your end of life wishes and put in place appropriate estate planning options.

Ms Rowland says, "Despite being something that touches everyone, death doesn't receive enough visibility.

"Having a conversation with loved ones about end-of-life wishes will help them make decisions on a person's behalf should they be unable to communicate their wishes. And it is these conversations that will help people prepare mentally for end of life."

Getting your affairs in order can make you feel more prepared for your end of life experience and ensure that your legacy will be secure once you pass.

It can also assist in making sure your cultural or religious beliefs are upheld during the end of life stage and after you pass.

Important documents you should consider include Wills, Enduring Power of Attorney or Guardianship, funeral planning, and Advance Care Directives. You can learn more in our 'Creating a strong estate plan' article.

Spend quality time with family and friends

No matter how much time you have left, it is important for you to connect and spend quality time with your family and friends.

Your palliative care team will encourage you to see family and friends, and can assist you to spend time with your family and friends if you are not doing well and need extra support to see the people you love.

While it can be a sad time, these last moments can be really special for you and the family and friends you will leave behind.

It is an opportunity to say goodbye to the people close to you.

Ms Rowland says it is not uncommon for people to use this time to reconcile and repair any relationships with family and friends.

Utilise grief and counselling services

While you, or your family and friends, can never fully be prepared for what is to come, palliative care does provide grief and bereavement services to make sure you can receive the support and help you need.

Of course, grief and bereavement can differ from person to person, and can appear in many different ways.

Talking about any issues you are having, whether about the future or problems with behaviour from family and friends, with a professional can be a great stress reliever.

It is important you are able to express everything you feel, whether it is anger or sadness, and make time to work on your wellbeing.

Palliative care also provides ongoing bereavement assistance to your family and friends and aims to improve their grief outcomes.

How have palliative care services helped you mentally prepare for death? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

The difference palliative care can make in the dying process
Having a say in your own funeral
What is palliative care for?
Palliative care: How does it impact someone's life?

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