How To Respect & Support Your Loved One’s Final Wishes

Laurel McLaughlin

When your loved one reaches the end of their journey, you will feel a variety of emotions - all of which are normal. 

You may even be in the position of being the primary decision-maker in their last days. If this is the case, it can be hard to separate your emotions from your loved one’s wishes.

Luckily there are ways you can honor your loved one’s final wishes to the best of your ability. In this article, we’ll explore these four ways.


4 Ways To Respect Your Loved One’s Final Wishes

The end of life is an emotional time, but having difficult conversations in advance can help you to make that time, quality time, with your loved one. The focus of every decision should be based on your loved one’s comfort and quality of life. 

1. Review Advanced Care Planning

Advanced care planning and estate planning can be key areas to review towards the end of your loved one’s life. 

If your loved one completed legal documents such as a living will and durable power of attorney, you can use these to guide your decision-making.

As part of estate planning, they may have also appointed beneficiaries for accounts and life insurance policies. Having these documents in an accessible place will keep you from having to struggle to locate them during a difficult time.

If you have not had previous conversations with your loved one about end-of-life wishes, consider using an online tool such as The Conversation Project. This tool can guide you through challenging conversations and can even be helpful for people living with dementia. This brings peace of mind that decisions are being made in alignment with their beliefs.

2. Follow Through With “Difficult” Wishes

Your loved one may have made advanced decisions that can feel uncomfortable to follow through with. 

For example, if they opt not to have life-sustaining treatment or during the use of comfort medications. Some family members find it difficult to assist in the use of heavy medications and may find it difficult to accept their loved one reducing the amount they are eating and drinking.

If your loved one has signed paperwork in advance outlining their wishes, you can feel peace of mind in knowing that you are making decisions that align with their values and respect their end-of-life wishes.

Regardless of whether or not someone documented their plans, end-of-life care often includes the use of comfort medications and the acceptance of bodily changes. 

The goal should be to maintain your loved one’s quality of life and comfort, rather than prolonging life. Some forms of life-sustaining treatment, or not using comfort medications, can negatively impact the quality of life of your loved one.

Their health care provider should be able to guide you in understanding the potential outcomes. 

3. Lean On Professionals For Support

When we care deeply for someone, it can be difficult to accept the concept of stopping life-sustaining treatments. Even if your loved one was explicit in their end-of-life wishes, you may find it emotional and hard to follow through with them. Lean on professionals for support, guidance, and direction when possible. 

Your loved one’s health care provider may refer you to a hospice agency to provide additional support to you and your loved one. Hospice agencies specialize in end-of-life care and they are generally covered by insurance. Services they provide include: 

  • Comfort Medication Management

    • Home Health Care

    • Social Workers

    • Chaplains

A hospice worker supports you in ensuring your loved one is comfortable and their needs are met during their final days. 

The hospice workers will also be there for you to support you in decision-making through validation and expertise. They may be able to assist in fulfilling any final wishes of your loved one. Hospice agencies are generally able to continue providing bereavement support after your loved one has passed.

4. Respect Your Loved One’s Spiritual Beliefs

For some, as they get to the end of their life, their spiritual beliefs may strengthen. Those who previously were not religious may find themselves seeking a spiritual outlet. 

If they are religious, provide them with what’s needed for end-of-life in their religion. It may not be your religion or align with your values but will provide significant comfort for your loved one. 


Navigating Your Loved One’s Wishes Once They’re Deceased

Your loved one may have left instructions regarding their preference for burial or cremation. They may have also left final arrangements for a send-off or funeral arrangement. In some cases, these may be written, pre-paid for arrangements in order to avoid stress and financial burden during a difficult time. 

While some people plan their send-off based on personal preferences and values, others may center theirs around religious practices. They may rely on their Health Care Proxy or a close relative to follow through with their wishes. 

When it comes to funeral planning, here are some options to consider:

  • Celebration of Life

  • Funeral

  • Traditional burial

  • Cremation

  • Memorial Services

Your loved one can choose to have a public service or private service with just family members and close friends. If someone is engaged in pre-planning their funeral service, the funeral director will likely have the instructions for your loved one left for them to follow.

Why Your Loved One’s Final Wishes Matter

Being mindful of your loved one’s last wishes, not only respects the wishes of the deceased but also provides closure at the end of a caregiving journey. 

Caregivers may be saddened and mournful of their loss, but others may feel relief that their loved one is out of pain and at peace. There may be times when it does not feel possible, or it feels uncomfortable to follow through with the wishes of your loved one. 

Respecting the wishes of end-of-life care and after death, shows respect for your loved one and offers closure to the caregiving journey.