Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

How do we prepare for our parent’s death?

Lillian Brummet will be visiting my blog today with a guest post on grief. Lillian is  the co-author of the books: Trash Talk and Purple Snowflake Marketing, author of Towards Understanding; Host of the Conscious Discussions talk radio show, manager of two blogs & a bi-weekly newsletter (

How do we prepare for our parent’s death?

So many of us just do not want to face a parent leaving this world, yet we all must face it at some point in our lives. Some of us lose our parents very early in life; others have the joy of parents hanging on long enough to share time with their great-grandchildren. As our parents age we can’t help but fearing that one day they will no longer be with us, and what then? That question is on our minds even if our parents are in the best of health. And if they are ill – the thoughts that go through our minds can be exhausting.

I’ve lost both biological parents and a beloved stepfather – two of whom took their own lives. The tragic loss, although expected, was devastating. You see, my mother and her husband were terminally ill and had been chronically ill and in pain for more than 20 years before they decided to end their lives. The last 10 years of their lives were an opportunity to explore deep feelings, speak of the unspeakable and learn to be able to let go. I’d like to share some of the tips I’ve learned from this experience.

The first thing people in terminally ill conditions need from their children (or others around them) is closure – the act of discussing things or forgiving things that we hold in our minds can be so very healing and without it we would be plagued by ghosts and regrets when that person is gone. So deal with it now, while you can. If you cannot speak the thoughts you have, perhaps write them down in a poem or letter and share them that way. Let the person know what they have meant to you, the ways they have bettered your life, the things that you’ll always be proud of them for. They need to hear this… and you need to share it, whether you are aware of it now or not.

Ask questions for family history both medical and any stories they may be able to share. Prompt the individual to speak of their experiences by asking them about the schools they went to, friends they had, or what they did when something happened. Another great way to prompt story sharing is to go through the photos with them. This can be very helpful to the individual, as they feel valued and that their life had more meaning. You can try using a voice recorder for the stories and information and then transcribe it later as time allows.

Terminally ill people need to know that their last wishes will be taken care of. So make sure that you discuss this with your loved ones. This is a wrenching time for those of us who will be left behind because the length of the grieving process is increased. It can be very difficult to speak of, or help prepare, things like Living Wills and Power of Attorney and Estate Wills, but it must be done. Know the location of important paperwork, bank records and debts – and assure the loved ones that their friends will be taken care of. This is so important. As the executor of my parents’ estate, I asked them to leave me a letter of detailed instructions to follow so that I would not have to make decisions in the middle of grief. This was an incredibly helpful tool for me, and left my mind free of doubts or second thoughts on decision-making.

After they left this world, and the police called – the whirlwind of grief really struck hard. I just crumpled at first, and shook and sweated and shook some more. I think I shook like a leaf nearly constantly for over a week – it was physically exhausting. The family needed support, they needed closure, they needed togetherness – the lawyers and tax people and the government needed things, the realtor needed things… The travel and the constant list of to-do’s was almost a relief to me since I could experience the grief in smaller bouts in between the distractions. Delegating activities to several family members helped with the family gatherings, funeral arrangements, travel arrangements and so forth.

Grief plays havoc with your immune system; it is important to have vitamins supplementation – especially anti-oxidants like Vitamin A, C, E, and so on. Drink plenty of water too, since you’ll be loosing a lot through perspiration and grief. Grief can also play havoc with one’s emotions; I found I just wanted everything to go away and would have teenage-like fits over the smallest things. Exhaustion leads to an increase of impatience, anger and frustration can quickly come to the surface, and then there were days when I can’t stop thinking of their death, or their suffering.

At these times, my husband will take me out to nature where we would walk in the dwindling snow of the approaching spring, or sit by a lake and watch the water and walk the beaches in early summer, or stroll in the cool shade of the forested mountain trails. This was so healing for me… just to breathe fresh air and get out from under the emotions one is left with.

It has now been 7 months since their passing – and while the intense grief is gone, I still feel moments when the loss hits very hard and yet other days go by where I hardly think of it. Most of the paperwork is completed, except for the government who is notoriously slow at processing things. My mother’s family has settled back to their lives and her friends have been taken care of. There is nothing left to do but move on in life.

My parent’s lives (my mother in particular) contained a great deal of suffering and tragedy – their depression and hopelessness, their bitterness towards the end of their lives will always be a sadness for me. When my mother died, when the bullet entered her brain, I was doing dishes and at that moment I burst into song – a childhood song we used to sing together. I could remember every line of that song, even though I hadn’t been able to recollect most of it before. It was at that moment, or soon afterwards, that I decided that I wanted to live for them… really live. Not just every day living, but enjoying every scent, every sunbeam, every flower.

* Author’s Note: I hope my story will help some of Phyllis’s blog readers in their own lives, that you will find some way of providing more comfort to those in your life who are facing death or illness. If I were to leave today’s readers with one single piece of advice for this time in their lives… it would be to be patient with yourself, and to be patient with others too.


August 5, 2010 Posted by | Grief, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment