When medications, therapy, surgery, and alternative treatments don’t work, what’s left? In many cases, the answer is acceptance. If your loved one was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, you have a long, dark road ahead. While the end is inevitable and you know what the result will be, getting there might be more difficult than you realize. Having the right knowledge, tools, and resources is essential for supporting a loved one with a terminal illness. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know.
What Classifies as a Terminal Illness?
Before you can understand how to deal with a terminal illness diagnosis, it’s important you know exactly what it means. A terminal illness, also referred to as an end-stage disease, is an incurable condition. This means that the illness can’t be treated and that no medication or treatment plan (regardless of how intense it is) will help. The expected result is death. It’s interesting to note that the term terminal illness is often given to progressive disorders and not sudden, traumatic events or accidents. Someone diagnosed with a terminal illness is often given medication or treatment to help them live their final days more comfortably. These compassionate providers can offer alternative ways to ease pain, discomfort, and anxiety associated with aging and illness.
Most Common Terminal Illnesses
Since most terminal illnesses are attached to a disease or disorder, it might help to understand what some of those conditions are. Here’s a short list of some of the most common terminal illnesses:
- Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome
- Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever
- Coronary artery disease
Not all of these diagnoses will end in death, but the risk is still present.
How to Cope
Now that your loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s time to pick up the pieces — for both yourself and for them. How do you cope with knowing that you’re loved one is going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it? And even worse, how do you help them wrap their minds around this fact? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Be Prepared for Personality Changes
There’s no “one size fits all” reaction for dealing with a terminal illness. The person was quite literally handed a death sentence. There’s no way for you, an outsider, to understand exactly how that feels. And the truth is, the news might alter your loved one’s personality. They may go through many steps of grief including anger, sadness, regret, and hopefully, acceptance. You may be met with resistance when you suggest things to do or places to visit. This usually comes from a place of anger and fear — angry that they can’t do everything they possibly want prior to death and the fear of dying.
Try to remain patient and supportive. If your loved one wants to spontaneously visit another country or do something out of character, if it doesn’t put their health at risk, indulge them! But it’s also important to remember that your loved one may show no changes at all. In some cases, the patient wants to be treated as normally as possible. It helps them forget about their impending death and focus on living their life!
2. Value Every Moment Together
Have you been putting off that phone call to your mom? Feel guilty about not responding to your aunt’s text messages? Now is the time. If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness, time is of the essence. Call them, visit, and spend valuable time together. But understand that not every moment has to be spent doing something. Simply sitting together chatting is meaningful near the end. In fact, even sitting in silence helps.
Terminally ill patients don’t often want to be alone, but may not always be in the mood to talk. Bring a good book and sit beside your loved one. Randomly reach out and touch their hand, offer them food or drink, and be there to listen if they do decide to open up. But don’t smother them, push them to interact, or feel helpless if you’re just sitting there. Your presence alone is often enough.
3. Encourage Them to Talk
While being silent supportive is often preferred, in some cases, it’s okay to encourage your loved one to open up. Ask them to tell you a story from their past. Help them to recount and remember fond memories of the life they’ve lived. This helps give them a sense of accomplishment while reliving some of their happiest times. Just know this may backfire at times or result in them feeling sad over the things they’ll no longer experience. If this happens, shift the focus of the conversation and put a positive spin on all the beautiful memories they’ve made and people they’ve touched.
4. Denial is Okay
Denial is a common reaction to a terminal diagnosis. No one wants to believe that the condition they have is incurable. The patient probably thinks doctors will discover a miracle medicine to cure them before their final days arrive. Allowing them to believe this usually isn’t harmful. If it helps them to successfully get through each day, let them be. The only time denial can be dangerous is if it interferes with planning for their final days. For example, if the patient has young children and refuses to make plans for their care because, in their mind, they’re not dying, that’s a problem. You may need to tactfully intervene and help bring your loved one back to reality — as difficult as that might be.
5. Tell them it’s Okay to Let Go
Some people believe that loved ones wait to pass until their family and friends aren’t present. They believe that in some subconscious way, they’re protecting their loved one’s feelings. In other instances, dying individuals sometimes hold on for the same reason — to protect their loved ones. If you believe this is the case, it’s important to let your family member know that it’s okay to go. Reassure them that you’re there, you’re okay, and that it’s alright for them to pass on when they’re ready. It’s been reported in many cases that once the living family member reassures their dying loved one that they peacefully pass.
Dealing with terminal illness is difficult for all those involved. Knowing how to handle yourself, while also supporting your loved one, will help make their final days ones of happiness and peace.
Article Submitted By Community Writer