5 Tips for Healing Relationships at the End of Life

5 Tips for Healing Relationships at the End of Life


We humans are a deeply flawed bunch. All of us have hurt others and have been on the receiving end of heartbreaking words and actions. What's worse, painful rifts grow larger over the years, until the gap seems too wide to bridge.

More often than not, there is deep love at the core of these broken relationships, but neither person knows how to express it, a situation that is amplified by the passage of time. Finally, as someone is nearing the end of life on this earth, if the relationship doesn't heal, soon it will be too late.

Healing relationships at the end of life seems overwhelming, but according to bereavement care specialist Dr. Virginia A. Simpson, it's actually easier than you might think.

She provides 5 tips for people who want to straighten-out a relationship with an ailing loved one.

1. Keep things in perspective. Once your loved one has died, your worldview will suddenly change. All the issues that seemed so irritating and insurmountable will lose their importance. Bear this in mind while she is still alive and allow the notion to help you remain calm and accepting as you interact with her.

2. Explain your vision. Frame the conversation in a heartfelt explanation of why you're having it in the first place. For example, "I love you, and our relationship is important to me but I see that we're not connecting well. I want to do what I can to help us connect." This will help your loved one understand that you're acting from a place of love and caring.

3. Tell your story - honestly. To heal rifts you will need to open up about your feelings without pointing fingers or accusing. This means talking about yourself and how certain relationship issues make you feel. For example, "I feel very nervous when I see you drinking." Or, "It hurts when I feel you're ignoring me."

4. Don't walk away: be patient. Remember that your loved one, too, bears scars and may be sad and frightened. Lashing out in anger is often a manifestation of these two emotions. If he or she does lash out, be patient. Ask, calmly, "I see you are angry and wonder what's going on. Are you frightened? Of what?" The answer may be unclear but this will help diffuse the tension.

5. Focus on the future. Though the conversations may be difficult, they will be worth it. You will have fewer regrets once your loved one is gone and will be able to honor his or her memory in a healthier, more peaceful way.

Dr. Virginia A. Simpson is the founder of The Mourning Star Center for grieving children and their families and author of the memoir, The Space Between, about her journey caring for her ailing mother.

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