Making Final Arrangements for a Terminally-Ill Loved One

07/27/2012 03:07 pm ET | Updated Sep 26, 2012

No one wants to make arrangements for the death of a terminally ill friend or family member. It's painful to think about a loved one's eventual passing, but it's important to make the arrangements sooner rather than later. In fact, it's best to do it when you first learn your loved one has a terminal diagnosis. Why? Because once you have taken care of all the plans, you can just relax and enjoy spending whatever precious time you have left together.

There are other reasons as well. One is that you'll save yourself untold stress when your loved one does pass away. When you're grieving and not functioning at your best, you won't have to rush around making a multitude of arrangements, gathering needed documents and information, making important decisions and performing a whole host of other tasks, many of which have to be completed quickly.

More importantly, you'll have time to visit with your closest friends and family at the time of the death. These persons will be critical providers of emotional support for you. If you haven't made the needed arrangements, you'll be so busy you won't have much time to spend with them.
Although you can't arrange everything in advance, there are several tasks you can complete. You may want to include your loved one in the planning, but if you don't you should find a friend or family member who can help you. That will make it a little less daunting.

Medical/Legal Issues: Hopefully your loved one will already have a living will, power of attorney and durable power of attorney for healthcare. If they don't, you should encourage them to execute these documents as soon as possible. This will guarantee that their wishes regarding their end-of-life care will be carried out. The documents will provide instructions as to whether they want heroic measures taken to extend their life, whether they want a Do Not Resuscitate order and other issues.

Call List: One of the first things you will have to do when the person dies is inform family members and friends. This can be immensely draining. It's a good idea to prepare a list, including phone numbers, of people who will have to be notified. You don't have to call all of the people yourself. You can indicate on the list which friends and family members you'd like to make each specific call on your behalf. That way, you can reduce your burden by calling only those few people who are closest to you.

Obituary: Obituaries need to be sent to newspapers promptly. You can write it or have someone else prepare it. Start by collecting all the needed information. This will include important dates and other information about the person's life, such as what years they were in the military (if applicable), the specific years they worked at a particular company, the year they married, the spelling of any names you might not know and any other details you'd like to include.

Also, select a photograph if you want to have one displayed in the obituary. Finally, record the phone number of the newspaper(s) where you want the obituary to appear. You can always make any needed changes later.

Eulogy: It takes time to prepare a thoughtful, well-written eulogy. The first step is to determine whom you'd like to deliver it and then ask them if they will do it. Have the person write as much as possible in advance. They will probably need you to supply some details about your loved one's life. If you want to deliver the eulogy yourself, go ahead and prepare it, getting any help you may need from a friend or family member who is a gifted writer. This document, too, can always be revised later if need be.

Funeral: Go to a funeral home and make (and pay for) all the needed arrangements so when the time comes all you have to do is place one call to them. Also, if you want to make any remarks at the funeral, prepare them now. Give some thought to other people you may want to speak and ask them in advance. This is also a good time to select the music you want played and investigate potential performer(s) if you want live music. Other tasks include designating pall bearers, selecting any prayers you want read, making up the official program, selecting the person you want to officiate and choosing a religious speaker if you want one.

Reception after the Funeral: If you plan to have some sort of reception or meal after the funeral, figure out where you want to have it. If it will be in someone's home, pick out a caterer unless you will ask your guests to each bring a dish.

Memorial Service (If you plan to have one): Think about where you'd like for it to be held. Prepare a framed photograph if you plan to display one at the service.

Burial Location: If you're planning to have a traditional burial and your loved one doesn't have a plot, select a cemetery and purchase one. You can also look into headstones at this time.

Disposition of Cremains: If the person will be cremated, determine where you want the cremains to be placed. And when you're making those arrangements, which it's best to pay for in advance, select an urn. This can be an especially gruesome task that's best dealt with before the time of need.

Making final arrangements for a disabled terminally-ill loved one who is still living can be very stressful and may feel macabre, but it will not be as agonizing as having to do it at the time of their death.