When You Can’t Be There As a Loved One Dies

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

There are times when we have some warning that a loved one is dying. We can change our
agendas and make travel plans in order to be present at the death or in their last days. Other
times, it simply isn’t possible. If death comes swiftly and unexpectedly, we are left with a much
different set of regrets and feelings of distress than if we are able to show our love with our

During the current pandemic, we are unlikely to be able to be present due to the significant risk
of contagion. This reality is likely to increase our distress, because unlike sudden death, our
helplessness stems from the knowledge that it is happening and we can’t do anything we would
normally do to tend our loved one as death nears.

When you can’t be there while someone is dying, you may find some of these strategies help:
  1. Connect with your loved one. Send written notes and care packages, make phone or
    video calls, or send video clips. These efforts can help you both feel linked despite
    physical distance, and may bring a smile or some comfort to your loved one.
  2. Connect with those who are caring for your loved one. Determine the best schedule for
    checking in, and ask whether a phone call or email is best for the caregiver. Respect
    their time and effort, as their attention is primarily being directed to being present with
    their patient. Receiving status updates can help ease your mind as well as help you
    prepare for the death.
  3. Offer to share updates with other family and friends in order to reduce the demand on
    the caregiver’s time and energy. Creating one point of contact for information sharing
    beyond the immediate family can help people feel included during this difficult time.
  4. Spend time remembering your relationship with the person who is dying. Look through
    old pictures and mementos that you keep in your home or that you can access on-line.
    Take the time for both laughter and tears as you reflect on the love, with all of the
    heartache, change and joy you have endured in this lifetime.
  5. Take time for self care and have compassion for yourself. This is a time of suffering as
    someone you care deeply about is leaving, or has left, this beautiful, difficult life. Allow
    yourself to pause, to engage in the activities that soothe you and bring you comfort to
    ease the pain you feel as you grieve a death that you can’t attend to as you wish you
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