A Checklist For the Dying

What does it mean to “get your affairs in order”? That’s what everyone says to do when you receive a terminal diagnosis. But getting your affairs in order means different things to different people. Most of my clients want a list of practical items they need to address at the end of their lives. Therefore, here is a checklist for the dying.

A Dying Person’s To-Do List

You’ll notice that, for many of these items, you don’t need a diagnosis to get started. Nevertheless, here are some specific things to do when preparing for death.

1. Learn About Your Illness or Disease

This is your experience, no one else’s. So get educated. Don’t rely on your doctors, nurses, or anyone else to tell you what’s happening in your body.

Ask questions and keep a notebook handy to write down every symptom as well as medical advice when you go to doctor’s visits. Do plenty of research on your own as well – not to argue with your doctors but to be prepared. Know what to expect as your disease or condition gets worse.

Yes, it’s scary. However, much of that fear of the unknown goes away when my clients know. You too might feel empowered. Therefore, take some time, in the beginning, to fully comprehend physical, mental, and/or emotional changes so you can better prepare for them.

2. Be Patient With Yourself

You’re going to feel a variety of emotions as you respond to this new reality. Some days will be better than others, so put some plans in place for self-care.

Contact a grief counselor for yourself and/or family members. Begin meditating or praying regularly to strengthen this effective coping skill.

Keep a journal.

If my clients are confined to a room, I bring in plants, pictures, candles, or anything that might provide them with comfort.

person arranging a bouquet of flowers

3. Determine Your Goals

Any checklist for the dying must include what you want to do with the rest of your life. Many of my clients have estranged loved ones and want to reach out to say, “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” or “I forgive you.”

Perhaps you want to get married to the love of your life before you die. Maybe a granddaughter’s graduation? Figure out what you want to do and hire a death doula to see what goals are feasible and can be accomplished.

4. Choose Where You Want to Die

Consider your options and where you can comfortably die according to your own wishes. This might be at home, in a hospital or nursing home, or somewhere else entirely. This will be based on your condition and whether you want certain medical professionals on hand for whatever you might need.

Now is the time to make sure your chosen location is a viable option.

5. Talk it Out

Give some thought to your family and loved ones. How are they handling everything? Do they need therapy or a way to discuss their emotions? Make sure they have plenty of support so they can cope with what’s happening.

They may not know what to do or how to react. You also want them on board with whatever you’re deciding.

Some of my clients hold a family/loved ones meeting every week to go over what’s happening. They also talk about what’s changed and do a general vibe check. This can be helpful for people who need to talk about what’s happening.

6. Create a Care Team

This includes people providing:

  • Hospice services
  • Emotional or spiritual support
  • Medical or palliative care
  • Help with household chores on a daily or weekly basis. (Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.)
  • Transportation to or from doctor’s appointments
  • Personal care such as haircuts, pedicures or manicures, waxing, shaving, etc.
  • Assistance with scheduling volunteers, visits, and medical care

7. Call an Attorney

Find out from a professional what you need to protect your family and loved ones from the probate court. They’ll also help you create or update your will and estate paperwork.

This is also a good time to decide what you want to do with your pets and social media accounts after your death.

8. Create Advance Directives

Put all your wishes about future healthcare in writing. This includes assigning someone to be a durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy.

Choose someone who can and will make medical decisions for you when you cannot. Directives also include a living will.

Be very clear about the treatments you want or don’t want at the end of your life. Lastly, create a Do Not Resuscitate or Do Not Attempt Resuscitation order. Both you and your doctor will sign the DNR to make it official.

9. Consider Donation

Donating your organs and tissue is a profound way to give the gift of life. Research local medical schools or other places if you would like to make a whole-body donation. Include these instructions in your advance healthcare directive.

Declutter your home and consider giving loved ones, or a local charity, anything that doesn’t get thrown away.

Also, many obituaries include a line that says “In lieu of flowers, please donate to…” What organization do you want people to donate to in your name?

10. Pre-Plan Your Funeral or Memorial Service

Contact at least three local funeral homes to compare prices. You have lots of options to consider. These choices include:

Make arrangements ahead of time, including payment, to ensure your wishes are met and make things easier on mourning loved ones.

11. Begin a Legacy Project

Organize your most requested recipes, write out your life story, and send emails to your kids telling them everything you love about them. This fills your remaining days with meaning, and you’ll leave behind a wonderful gift to be treasured for generations to come.

man in black jacket standing on top of building during sunset

12. Give Some Thought to Spiritual Matters

Sometimes, end-of-life is when we finally begin to think about our fears. There’s no putting it off any longer.

So, what scares you about dying?

Your medical team can handle physical discomfort and you should begin those conversations. What about emotional or spiritual discomfort? Again, this is your experience so think about what you need for support.

Would it be helpful to have a chaplain on your support team? What about a priest, rabbi, imam, or pastor?

If you belong to a particular house of worship, now would be a great time to include whoever might ease this kind of suffering. If you don’t belong to one, begin researching and asking around in your community for someone who might be able to provide spiritual assistance.

13. Make Every Moment Count

Do what you want as often as you can. Listen to your favorite songs. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Hold hands with loved ones. Keep the windows open if you want to breathe fresh air. I often put my client’s beds in a room where they can see the garden or people walking by on the street.

Listen to the birds if that fills you with peace.

Do whatever brings you joy and savor every pleasure. You may not have a great deal of time left; however, you can decide how to spend that time. And make it count.

Checklist for the Dying and Living

These are just ideas and, as always, you don’t have to be dying to get started on some of them. Our end of life can be a more profound experience if we go into it prepared.

Do you have other items that should belong on this list? What other affairs should be put in order before death? Feel free to leave comments below or on my social media channels.

If you need any help with this checklist for the dying or any aspect of final preparations, contact me at Anitya Doula Services today.

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