How to prepare for a home death and what to expect
When a family member knows that they are sick and dying, they may not want to spend their final moments in a hospital or healthcare facility. Instead, some people may opt to spend the end of their lives at home. To that end, here is how to prepare for a death at home and what to expect.
Why choose a home death?
Two of the main reasons that someone may choose to die at home are comfort and familiarity. For most people, home is a significant part of their life; it is where they sleep, eat, spend time with family and friends. It is where they live their life. If someone is dying in a hospital, the space around them can feel impersonal and foreign to them. When someone chooses to die at home, they get to experience comfort and familiarity in their final moments with family and people familiar to them.
Caring for a sick or dying loved one can also be a rewarding experience for friends and family. Leading up to their death, the individual is likely to need care. Friends and family can participate in these practices -- like bathing, feeding and nurturing them -- and have more direct involvement in their loved one’s palliative care.
What to consider before choosing a home death
Although a home death can be a comforting option for many people, there are some important things to keep in mind before making the choice. These include:
- Respect the wishes of the dying person. A home death is something that should be chosen, when possible, by the person who is dying. If an individual has expressed beforehand how they would like to spend their final days, family and friends should respect their wishes even if it gets to a point where the individual can no longer communicate with them.
- Willingness of family and friends. Although a home death is often a personal decision, it is essential to get friends and family input. If an individual wants to have a home death, they must first make sure that those taking care of them are comfortable doing so or willing to make arrangements for professional care.
- Palliative care. If friends or family take on the role of caregiver, they need to ensure they have the necessary tools and resources needed to provide care adequately.
- Mental and physical effects. Watching a loved one dying and taking care of a loved one that is dying can be both mentally and physically draining. It is essential to ensure you have the necessary resources needed to help you get through the process.
- Finances. Palliative care can be expensive. This varies depending on the care needed, but some expenses can include additional caregivers, medical equipment, energy costs to power that equipment, and more.
- What to do after death. You’ll need a post-death plan. Will they be buried or cremated? Will there be a funeral? Who will prepare the body for a funeral? What legal rules and regulations need to be followed upon death?
Care for your dying loved one at home
In many cases, dying people require a high level of care. You’ll need to decide who will provide care and what equipment and resources are needed to do that adequately.
For example, if the individual can take care of themselves, for the most part, a family member may be able to be the sole caregiver. However, if the individual needs help with essential tasks such as moving or bathing, a medical professional in lieu of or alongside family caregivers may be the better option.
For some individuals, there may be medical equipment needed for palliative care. For example, if an individual requires a breathing tube, you will need space and make allowances for the equipment. It also needs to be working correctly and there needs to be someone available that knows how to operate the equipment.
Taking care of your loved one after death
You must be prepared for what to do after death. Unfortunately, most people are unfamiliar with the steps that must be followed. An excellent place to start is to talk to someone in funeral services beforehand. (You can contact our staff at Eirene. We are available 24/7. Click here)
Funeral directors are well-versed in requirements upon death and can advise you and help you with any requirements and paperwork.
Once the legal requirements of a death are fulfilled, you can focus on funeral options. These include body preparation (e.g., cremation), urn choices, memorialization, ash scattering, funeral ceremonies, and more. You should also have a plan to return or sell any palliative equipment and dispose of any remaining medications.
There are many choices for funeral options, but a home funeral might be a good fit for your family after a home death. A home funeral allows friends and family to continue their role in taking care of a loved one.
Sarah Hines, founder and CEO of Grief Advocacy, believes that this makes home funerals special. “The main difference is the idea of who’s caring for the body... at a home funeral, you know your loved one is being cared for by loving hands,” she said.
Like palliative care, involvement in after-death processes and decisions depends on the family and friends of the deceased. They may choose to do all aspects involved in preparing the body and preparing for the funeral or memorialization or bring in additional support for certain elements. For example, if someone is not comfortable bathing and dressing the deceased, they can have someone come in to do that for them.
Importance of open communication
Throughout the entire process of preparing for a home death, good communication is crucial. Open communication between the person that is dying and their loved ones (and any additional care staff) helps ensure understanding and respect for between parties involved. It also helps to avoid resentment, anger, or hurt feelings throughout the process.
Regardless of the level of communication, it is unlikely that everything will go as planned. However, it is important to “give yourself permission not to do as well as you want to,” said Hines.
Losing a loved one is difficult enough, so as long as you are doing the best you can, it will still honour them. When it comes to home funerals “there is no perfect. There’s only love,” Hines added.
A special thank you to Sarah Hines founder of Grief Advocacy for sharing her thoughts with us for this piece.