When a person is about to die, possessions can become less and less important. Being takes priority over having.
And nobody wants to be a burden to those they leave behind. And we all know every item we own when we die – someone has to deal with it. Sometimes the lack of desire for stuff can be as simple as not wanting more stuff that needs just needs cleaned or maintained in anyway.
Flowers! Natural blooms are a solid standby. Most women enjoy receiving them – no matter where they are on the life cycle. Something bright, colorful, and living in their environment can make a space easier on the eye. That said, I’ve heard the rare tale of someone who found them a constant reminder of how much attention something needs to stay alive that will just die anyway.
Other good temporary options are fruit and cookie flower arrangements that can be a fun twist on a traditional standby. If they are able to eat still these can be a good treat to enjoy and share with loved ones and care takers too.
All of those are simple solutions to a tricky question. Sometimes they can also come off as easy options that don’t show much care or thought. So think about it and them. Who is this person and how can my gift show I care and make their life better? Here are some other ideas.
Quality of Life
A primary focus of people who are dying is ensuing each day is the best it can be considering the reality. So items that help them feel comfortable and relaxed may be highly valued. Simple pleasures mean more and more as we are able to do less and less.
You can make their home space (no matter if it is a home, hospital, or assisted living facility) more visually pleasant by offering to de-clutter the table tops, dusting their favorite figurines, cleaning the TV screen, or vacuuming the carpet. Of course don’t start packing things up or really changing the look of the place that can be disarming, but a spruce up with all the items still there can make a home easier to live in.
For those living in their own homes small home maintenance items can be a constant irritation. Fixing a leaky faucet and stopping that ticking drip, tightening down a vent making the air flow quieter, replacing a burned out and hard to access light bulb can bring welcome light, or sealing up a the edges of a window can get rid of that chilling breeze. No big messy or loud home repairs, just those things that take a little effort and can bring relaxation.
Increasing the comfort of the person who is dying can be quite simple but have daily impacts on their experience. A soft blanket, fresh pillows, smooth sheets, and a new mattress topper can make a bed a haven. Comfy clothes or PJs, warm slippers or fuzzy socks can feel great next to their skin. If finances allow a new mattress or chair can offer more support when it is desired most. Wanna go the extra mile? How about a massage, haircut, manicure, or shave? As they say, to look good is to feel good.
Dying can be isolating. People get nervous. They don’t know what to say or do, so they sometimes just stay away. Giving people an easy focused way to reach out if often all that is needed to bring in a wave of communication. Caring thoughts from those living far away can be shared via voice using audio files using voice apps on phones or online programs. Time together as a family: share stories. Or a Skype family reunion can get everyone into the same “virtual room” to bond and tell tales. A card campaign is easy to initiate and we all love a card in the mail. Encourage family, friends, business associates, club members, and others close to them to please send a card of letter via US mail during a specific week.
Near the end of life, we begin looking back at the lives we created and the years gone by. Even patients with dementia and alzheimers can sometimes connect with older memories even when what happened today isn’t there. There are lots of ways to help people connect with their past. Transfer slides or old VHS tapes to digital formats to make them easier to enjoy. Create a “mix tape” using computer files of popular songs they enjoyed from years ago. An electronic photo frame filled with lots of images nearby can be a joy as memories rotate by. If tech isn’t as friendly a photo album, radio station, or book of written stories can offer a low tech solution. Just ensure that any item is easy to handle, has big images or text making it easier to see, and a little frugal with not so much information that it could overwhelm.
Some of my favorite options are to offer up an experience. While some limitations can exist with a little effort some of these options may still be a possibility. Perhaps you can help them get outside on a beautiful day – most hospital beds are on wheels so maybe a quick roll out to the backyard to enjoy the sun and birds will fit the bill. Or maybe a mini “vacation” of a drive. You could drive by favorite landmarks or to a lovely vista to add to their days. If they are not quite yet to their final days, it could be time to let them enjoy their favorite foods that during times of treatment were on the “no” list. Near the end they should be able to eat whatever they want as long as it doesn’t make them uncomfortable. Hamburgers, candy, bacon, French fries (heck, deep fried anything!) and yep, even birthday cake are often on the “restricted” list before they got here. But now if we really look at the reality of the situation, who cares. They should be able to enjoy what they want – even if it may only be a bite. To be a little irreverent, what’s it gonna do? Kill them? HA!
As we look back, we question what impact we have had on the world. Sometimes it is a person’s children moving on in the world. You could set up or contribute to a college fund or savings for a wedding, honeymoon, or home down payment. The dying might have been involved with a charitable cause. Or maybe they created real change in the world with an invention, event, or discovery. A donation of money or time to their favorite charity – perhaps hospice, disease research can carry on the values they believe in.
There are quite a few businesses that have sprung up to help you honor and recognize a person’s life. While I can’t recommend any in particular, I do suggest you review what they have to offer and if it fits for you.
The best gift often is simply your time. Spend it wisely. Let them lead the conversation. Touch them. Care for them. Be there.
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Kel McBride, MLS, CEOLS, also known as the Lively Death Lady is a death and dying educator. She supports people in making informed decisions about their death that are in sync with their values. From health care to legacy, McBride makes the morbid intriguing and light-hearted, with amusing examples and details of lesser-known options. Her clients get their documents in order, have quality conversations about their wishes with friends and family – and also find a new focus on LIVING. She primarily works with people who are younger & healthy, people who believe their death is in the distant future. For more information or to be added to her EXPIRATIONS INSPIRATIONS blog email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit clearlydepart.com