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How to Cope With a Dying Parent

Dealing with a parent who’s dying is one of the most difficult and painful moments you’ll face. That’s why it’s so important you take care of yourself during this time.

Posted on June 2, 2022 by Luisa Rollenhagen
Cope With A Dying Parent min

When your parent is dying, it can be challenging to know how to take care of yourself. Of course, you want to be there for them and make sure they're comfortable, but you also need to make sure you're okay.

If you're reading this, we're guessing you have a parent who is dying. We know that this is an incredibly hard time for you and your loved ones. You're probably feeling sad and overwhelmed—and that's okay. You are allowed to feel all of those emotions at once, and there are ways to cope with everything that's happening in your life right now.

Here are some tips on how to make sure you take care of yourself during this challenging time:


1. Set aside some time each day to do something for yourself

When a parent is dying, it can be beneficial to set aside some time each day to do something for yourself. This could be as simple as taking a shower or having a cup of your favorite tea, or it could mean going for a walk, reading a book, or taking yourself to the new restaurant down the street for a nice lunch. The key is to find something that helps you relax and feel better.


2. Do things you enjoy

When you feel like doing nothing but succumbing to your grief, try distracting yourself with a small, enjoyable activity. It doesn't have to be anything major—maybe watch an episode of your favorite show, cook your favorite recipe, or see a new movie with friends—but make sure you're doing something that makes you happy and distracts you, even for just a couple of hours, from this difficult time.


3. Connect with someone who understands how hard this is

We all need someone in our lives who understands what we're going through, and that can be hard to find when we're dealing with a dying loved one.

Sometimes it helps to talk about your feelings with someone who has been through what you're experiencing now—whether it's another family member who has lost their parent, or just a friend who knows how hard this is for everyone involved. Although everyone’s grief is different, almost everyone has experienced loss in some way or another. Sharing those feelings with someone who understands can help you feel less alone in this moment.


4. Don't take care of everything

Taking care of a dying parent can be a huge job, and you will need help. It's okay to ask for help from friends and family members if you need it; you don't have to do this alone. Whether it’s having someone bring by some homecooked meals you can freeze for later, hiring a cleaner when you don’t have the energy to even pick up a mop, or asking a friend to run some errands for you while you take a nap—these things can really take a load off your shoulders. You shouldn’t feel like a burden when you ask for help: Your friends and family members want to be there for you, and asking for specific things helps them know how to best support you.

Remember: professionals can lend a hand if things get too much for you to handle on your own. If you’re currently caring for your dying parent, don’t feel like you’re abandoning them if you outsource some of the care work to an aid or a nurse. In order to really be there for your parent, you need ensure you’re not wearing yourself out.


5. Talk to your parents

It might be hard to talk about death with your parent at first, but talking about their life and what they've done will help them feel heard and understood. So let them tell their stories.

If they're able to reminisce, it'll make them feel more comfortable—and that comfort will help keep them calm when they're in pain or distress.

These conversations will make both parties feel closer than ever before—and provide comfort during this difficult time.


6. Take Breaks

Take breaks from caregiving duties so that you can take care of yourself and ultimately be a better support to your parent. This means finding time for exercise or engage in other activities that refresh your mind and body, such as taking a walk to clear your head or even just hopping on a bicycle and cycling around the block.

Allow yourself to watch some escapist television, make time for a coffee date with a friend, or just do some yoga in your living room. Taking breaks also means getting plenty of sleep, so you don't burn out.

It's essential to take time off from caregiving, even if it's just going out with friends after work. This will help keep your mind fresh and allow you to return without feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done back home.


7. Find healthy coping mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are things that we do when we feel overwhelmed by our emotions—they help us calm down and get through the day without falling apart entirely.

Some examples include meditation, exercise, journaling about how you feel each day (or even just writing down what happened), and listening to music that makes you happy.

Difficult times like these make it tempting to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as turning to alcohol, drugs, or risky behavior to surpress the negative emotions you might be feelings. However, these unhealthy coping mechanisms will just make things worse, and amplify any anxiety and depression you may be feeling right now.


8. Get help if you need it?

Dealing with a parent who’s dying is one of the most difficult and painful moments you’ll probably face. As such, it’s a good idea to reach out and find professional help. A therapist who specializes in grief and bereavement will be able to support you through this time, suggest healthy coping mechanisms, and help you find a way forward through this dark time. You may also find group therapy helpful, since you’ll be surrounded by people going through the same thing you’re currently dealing with. The same goes for any self-help groups in your area. Whatever you choose to do, know that you do not have to go through this alone.


The Bottom Line

The best advice we can give is to remember to take care of yourself. It will be hard, but you need to make a place for yourself at the end of your parent's life. Learn what things you can do for your parent and then learn how to set boundaries. And take every opportunity that comes along to express your love for your parent. They deserve it, and, in their final days, they need it more than ever before.