These 7 proactivities helped me when my daughter and later when my mother both died. The list is not all-encompassing and hopefully will assist.
1. Who to call to the bedside.
This might seem obvious but decide who should be/may want to be at the bedside if death seems imminent. Have phone numbers ready of who to call and, if needed, have someone else call them. Ask certain people if they would like to be called.
2. Whether to issue a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) code.
My daughter’s doctor asked if I wanted a DNR code issued to first responders attending the scene after the death of my daughter. When you call an ambulance for someone who has died at home there can be an automatic duty to try to resuscitate. It is important to know that in certain circumstances a “No Code” be issued where it is clear resuscitation would serve no purpose. You can also talk to the doctor about the length of time before you have to call the first responder. Have the first responders and the doctor’s number handy.
Some spouses/families/friends want time alone with the deceased. Some even want a final photograph. There are organizations that volunteer to take a photo of you and a newborn child that has died.
3. People to call; special requests.
This is time sensitive information. When a loved one is about to die and you know others will want to be informed of the death, you may want a “go-between” and a list of numbers with names of who to contact. Prior to my daughter dying, I asked certain people to take care of phoning others because I was in no shape to make those calls – my sister called my mother and my brother. In addition, ensure that when people are informed there are clear instructions, e.g. “please do not announce or put this on social media before a certain family member can inform others”; “please don’t call until (insert time) as they need peace right now”. If you do not want flowers to be sent or if further instructions will be coming about funeral, flowers, etc., mention that too.
4. Stow away items.
Consider stowing away items you will not want to see once someone has died. I put away my daughter’s toys and stroller in her room because I did not want to have to do that the next day. There may be a book being read by your family member, a pair of glasses, shoes, slippers, a watch, anything.
This may seem strange but I asked the nursing home to remove and give me my mother’s jewellery that she was wearing. I also asked for three locks of her hair for my brother, sister and I. Why the locks of hair? My mother was to be cremated and I thought it was important to keep her DNA just in case it was needed in future.
5. Banking and money details.
If the dying person has term deposits or other savings/loans that are coming up for renewal and you have Power of Attorney, you may want to discuss this with your family, an accountant, the bank and even a family lawyer. As Power of Attorney or Guardian, you need to consider money aspects and possibly the distribution of money before the Will gets probated. For example, my mother had left everything to all three of her children. We knew the Estate would be divided in coming months/years and we did not want to pay taxes renewing a term deposit and then removing it before its due date. The same might be considered for the sale of a house, etc. Try to think of money needed for funeral expenses and for burial. Finances need to be clarified. Be transparent in case there is a dispute.
6. Comforting words.
I went in search of understanding and something to say at a funeral. What I found was the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S. Kushner. This book will help pretty much anyone. It is written by a Rabbi about his son’s tragic and imminent death and how he looked for answers. He realized the words he had been saying to his own community seemed empty. I am not Jewish and this book was extraordinarily helpful. I keep a copy on my bookshelf today.
Note: Consult an Executor of a Will before doing this. Think about and ask people if they would like a special item that you or your loved one has decided on or if you all agree, they can choose one. Be warned: you will want to check with a lawyer exactly what you can do. If you remove items be aware they may be mentioned in a Will as going to a certain person or may have monetary value and must be part of the Estate and should not be distributed without clearance by the Executor.
Clothing, other items and photographs I wanted to keep were placed in one wooden chest and it now sits in a quiet place in my home. When I am alone and want to remember or even smell the scent of my daughter again, I go to that chest. It is a good idea to store these as soon as possible, possibly have clear plastic bags so that you can identify a group of items. I left one item of my daughter’s out of the chest – a pillow that she last lay on -and my mother thought she would wash the pillow cover to help me out. It was sad for me as my mother didn’t know that I would often go to smell that pillow to remind me of my daughter in the days following her death. For personal effects that you are not sure about, leave them until you do know what to do. Take all the time you need and don’t be pressured by others to part with them earlier than you want to.
I am sure there are many other items people can think of, I found these personally helpful and I hope you will too.