Some tips for navigating the first week

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The circumstances of a person’s death, and the way a family reacts in the immediate aftermath, including religious and cultural traditions, vary so widely that it’s impossible to give specific advice that will apply to everyone. There are plenty of online resources to consult, from a Consumer Reports checklist with the basics to this excellent explanation of funeral planning. Here are some general tips for navigating the immediate aftermath of the loss of a parent.

Ask. For. Help.

When my mom died, I tried to make all the arrangements myself, and every mistake I made — from accidentally omitting one of the most…


A conversation with a hospice director

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In the last days and hours of my mom’s life, a lot of stuff came up that I wasn’t prepared for: deciding between keeping her in the hospital versus taking her home for hospice care, or even knowing what hospice care involved. I also didn’t know what to expect about the actual dying process. That would have been really nice to know.

While many of us will lose our parents in a more sudden way, many will also end up using hospice. Either way, it’s good to have a handle on what the last days are like for a parent…


Final conversations can make a huge difference. Don’t put them off.

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One night, one that would turn out to be about a month before my mom died of cancer, my dad, two brothers, my sister, and I gathered in the living room of the family house, surrounding our mom in the unstylish but functional recliner where she spent most of her time during her illness. (The “cancer chair” is definitely a thing.) I turned off whatever cooking show was on TV.

“Mom, is it okay if… we, um, spend some time sharing memories?” I asked, tentatively. Her eyes lit up: “Of course!”

Over the next hour, we surrounded her chair. Stroking…


Don’t do what I did

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I got the call to come home on a Thursday, as I was walking to work. It would be four days before my mom died. “I let them admit me to the hospital,” my mom said on the phone. She explained that she could no longer manage her pain at home or complete the complex and hours-long process of administering the IV nutrition that was keeping her alive. She mentioned hospice. “I think you can come home now,” she said, suggesting this for the first time. “I love you. Don’t be scared.” …


Supporting your parent, your family, and yourself when the worst thing happens

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I found out my mom’s in-remission colon cancer had come back with a vengeance on December 10, 2012. It was also my very first day of work at an exciting new job. Just as I was logging on to my brand-new work email, my phone buzzed. It was my dad (who never called me) and he was crying (he never cried). Exploratory surgery had revealed what was previously thought from her regular scans to be scar tissue from surgery was actually a massive legion of inoperable tumors. (Always get a second opinion on good cancer news!) I tried to maintain…


Why you need to have an awkward conversation about their death on purpose

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One fine spring day a few years ago, I had a thought — one I probably should have had much earlier, one that would return to me over and over, usually when I was trying to fall asleep: Everything is not going to be okay. For one, my parents will die. I even came up with a comforting counter-thought to recite to myself in response: When the time comes, you will have the tools to deal with it. It was kind of like how women who are having their first child comfort themselves with the idea that their bodies should…


In my other life, I was extremely punk.

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Sometime in 2001, I first read the (excellent) book Please Kill Me: The Unauthorized Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. From the book, I learned that all the punk musicians and hangers-on changed their given names to punk names — Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, etc. The book was all I could talk about for weeks, which was easy because all my friends had read it too. It captured my imagination like no other work of non-fiction had.

As much as I loved the book, or the parts of the book that weren’t about the things Iggy…

Lindsay Robertson

Writer, editor, comedy nerd.

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