Watching your loved one battle through a terminal illness is incredibly difficult and with it, comes pain, fear, and sadness. While the grieving process still exists, it’s much different than the one that accompanies a sudden or expected death. In the case of terminal illnesses, families are faced with the ‘long goodbye’. Throughout the course of a loved one’s terminal illness, family members and the ill must come to terms with the idea that they will be living with death. With an inevitable outcome, preparations still need to be made, and comfort needs to be given. In the end, when the loved one has succumbed to the illness, there is a sense of peace that falls over the family. Though they are still sad, they are relieved that their loved one is no longer in pain. Coping with a loved one’s terminal illness is a challenging task and one that requires much help and support from family and friends.
Terminal Illnesses and The Stages of Grief
The stages of grief that follow the diagnosis of a terminal illness is a process that’s much different than sudden or unexpected death. However, it’s still one that requires much love and support from others. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell how people will react to a terminal diagnosis; some may remain patient and nurturing while others grow angry and completely disconnect. Diverse reactions can have a deep effect on relationships, so it’s very important to remember that everyone is entitled to their own emotions. To help you cope with a loved one’s terminal illness, here’s are the stages of grief to better guide you:
- Crisis: In light of a terminal diagnosis, families will experience what we call the crisis stage. This disruption in the family will bring out a variety of emotions and reactions that are hard to gauge. Common initial reactions include anxiety, guilt, disbelief, and anger.
- Unity: In most cases, the reality of the inevitable will pull families together. Even if there are unresolved issues or conflicts, many families will put those emotions on hold to deal with the larger problem at hand. It’s important for families to unify during this time, for there is much work to be done–choosing a medical team to work with, completing the necessary legal work, and making the proper preparations after they pass. In this stage, family members will take on certain roles to ensure their loved one is comfortable and the necessary work is taken care of.
- Upheaval: At some point during the long goodbye of a terminal illness, family members will enter into the stage of pure grief. Sometimes, the unity that’s formed previously will start to wear thin and strong feelings develop. Common emotions that occur during this stage is anger, guilt, and even resentment. Issues of communication will arise, and relationships may be strained.
- Resolution: By now, the terminally ill is experiencing the gradual deterioration that comes with illness while periods of stability and instability fluctuate. By this time, the inevitable is truly sinking in, and family members are spending much time reflecting on past memories and perhaps sharing their individual stories. The resolution stage can provide families with many opportunities–the opportunity to resolve issues, heal wounds, and redefine roles, or allow old rivalries to stand true.
- Renewal: This is the final stage of grief, as the terminally ill has passed on. Mixed emotions are sure to spread throughout the family, however, there’s also a sense of relief. During this time, family members will be taking part in funeral preparations and the celebration of life.
Coping with a loved one’s terminal illness is no simple task, however, with the right support system, finding solace is possible.