Earlier this year, my grandmother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and was told she had only a few months left to live. When she found out that she had a limited time to put things in order, most of us didn’t know how to react. Of course, we were all heartbroken that we would soon lose my grandmother, but how could we help her live a comfortable, quality life for the rest of her days and keep her from worrying?
What amazed me was just how much my grandmother didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. In her typical fashion, she was worried about how everyone was doing, who would be in charge of planning her funeral, how my grandfather— her husband— would manage to live on his own. She never expressed that she was afraid of dying or worried for herself. Instead, she was concerned with everyone else.
We talked to her doctors to find out what we could do to help relieve some of her stress about what would happen when she passed. They all said we needed to plan everything ahead of time. So, we sat down and had a few conversations that we all thought would be tough. Those conversations turned out to be the best thing we could have done.
It sounds challenging to plan your own funeral, but that’s what was suggested by doctors. My grandmother sat down with a few family members to figure out the details of her memorial service, like where it would be held, who would be involved, and what music would be played. We discussed where she wanted to be buried and she even picked out her casket and the flowers she wanted. This helped her feel at ease since the rest of us wouldn’t have to plan her funeral and she could make sure her family was included in the way she’d like. We all felt better knowing we would honor her in the way she wanted.
My grandparents lived in a condo by themselves, and, naturally, my grandmother was worried that my grandfather would have a hard time living alone. After many long talks, it was decided that they would sell their condo and move into a continuing care retirement community as soon as possible. There, my grandfather could receive extra help in caring for his wife. Once she passed, he would continue living in the center where he would be surrounded by others in the same stage of life. By moving into the center before my grandmother passed, it helped his transition go smoothly and he didn’t have to cope with quite so many big changes all at once.
Just like any other grandmother, mine was worried about everyone else. She never wanted us to be sad about her situation or to be worried about her. This didn’t stop the rest of us from continually thinking about her, so we made it clear that helping her was not a burden. It was something we wanted to do and enjoyed doing. We asked her what she wanted us to do and told her to be completely honest. Would she like daily visits from someone in the family each day? Or did she find that exhausting and preferred only a couple of visits throughout the week? Would she like us to take turns making dinner for her and my grandfather each night? Or would she rather continue cooking while she was able? This helped all of us to have clear expectations and help my grandmother in the ways she wanted to be supported.
These conversations, tough as they were, ended up being the best thing for everyone. My grandmother was at peace with where things were before she passed, which helped the rest of us be at peace with her passing.
By Morgen Henderson
Morgen is a writer from the beautiful mountains of Utah. When she’s not writing, she loves baking, traveling, and spending time with her family.