One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of being a caregiver is deciding how to let go of your loved one.

When is the right time to move a patient into hospice, which can provide loving and professional support while someone is dying? When would residential placement be helpful, or would dying at home be preferable? Could palliative care, which helps with pain management, be of use? How do you approach making certain the will and any other legal issues are properly addressed?

The decisions and emotions can be confusing, and the uncertainty adds to the challenges.

So what can you do during this incredibly stressful time to make your way down a path that you never wanted to travel? Here are some thoughts that might help you find your way:

1) Talk to your loved one

If possible, take the time to talk to your loved one about as much as you can ahead of time so you know what s/he would want in various medical scenarios. Talk about legal issues with an attorney, perhaps visit a funeral home together, discuss funeral arrangements, and consider hospice care. The more you know about his or her wants, the easier it will be to make decisions later on.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to talk to your loved one due to dementia or another difficulty. If this is the case, you may have to address the above issues solo or with a friend or other family member. There is no wrong answer. Remember — you are doing the best you can.

2) Take care of business

Legal arrangements like a will can take time to address, so it’s worth getting past those hurdles, so they no longer are worries when the really emotionally wrenching times come. If a power of attorney is needed so that you can make decisions for your loved one, acquire one. A will and any trusts or other legal documents should be obtained. An Advance Healthcare Directive can provide guidance in a medical crisis, so take the time to create one. If a lawyer is too expensive, some documents can be created more cheaply online.

3) Adding to the Team

If your loved one is facing a chronic or deteriorating prognosis, his or her condition will change over time, and various support is possible throughout these stages. For example, palliative care, which provides comfort in varying ways ranging from medicine to therapy during an illness, may be helpful throughout both the illness and the approach to death. It can even be combined with hospice care, which is a support system when a patient ends the search for a cure and instead transitions toward death.

There is a great book called “Being Mortal,” which offers comforting advice on helping people have a good end to their lives.

4) Time for Hospice?

The decision to forego treatment and instead accept comfort care for an approaching death is a big one. Generally, the medical situation is the first consideration. Has an illness progressed to the final stages? Are treatments no longer working? Are normal and pleasurable activities, such as eating and talking, becoming increasingly difficult or impossible? What do the doctors say about the situation? How do you and your loved one feel about the possibility of ending the fight and refocusing on hospice and end-of-life care?

5) Last wishes

Are there last things that the patient would like to do whether simple or more complex? Perhaps a grandparent has always wanted to see the Grand Canyon or maybe an ill spouse would like to visit a beloved beach one last time or have some final meals at favorite restaurants? Try to include some of these things while taking time to treasure your last moments with your loved one. Know that just the fact you are there is the best gift you could ever give your loved one.

No matter how well you plan, letting go of a beloved person in your life will likely be one of your most painful life experiences.

So, be gentle with yourself. It will be the best gift that you can give yourself during this time.

Kathi Koll is the founder of The Kathi Koll Foundation and author of Kick-Ass Kinda Girl: A Memoir of Life, Love and Caregiving. Please visit or to learn more and read an excerpt.


  • Kathi Koll

    Founder of The Kathi Koll Foundation: Supporting Family Caregivers in Need

    Kathi Koll is the founder of The Kathi Koll Foundation, dedicated to supporting caregivers in need, and author of the award-winning book Kick-Ass Kinda Girl: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Caregiving. She also has a podcast Care for Caregivers. Her experience caring for her late husband, Don, after his debilitating stroke, was the inspiration for creating the foundation and writing her memoir. Kathi has been committed to civic, community, and healthcare organizations within and outside the United States for decades. She currently serves on the Hoag Hospital Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute advisory committee and on the Boy Scouts of America Orange County Council Board of Directors. She has previously served on the board of trustees of Casa Cuna, an orphanage in La Paz, Mexico, the boards of UCLA Health Systems and American Ballet Theatre, and as a trustee for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Kathi grew up in Los Angeles where she attended Loyola Marymount University. She lives in Southern California, and is the proud mother of three children and extremely proud grandmother of nine grandchildren, who all lovingly call her KK.