When a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, there are many emotions involved. Knowing how to comfort them can be a difficult thing to navigate. What can you do for them? What do you say to them? What can you say or do to help them deal with the diagnosis they were just given? How do you feel about their diagnosis? No matter who was diagnosed with a terminal illness in your life, they will need love, support, and guidance from you and those closest to them. This is a difficult time for them and for you. Here are ways you can help them, and maybe yourself, get through this long road ahead.
Let your loved ones know that you are concerned about them. Communication is key to everything. Also, remember that they are the ones dealing with a very difficult situation. They still want and need to be treated as before and want as much normalcy as possible. They are still your loved ones and nothing has changed that. Focus on the strengths of your relationship. If they like to bake, bake with them once a week. If they like watching movies, sit down with them and watch movies with them. If they like to walk, go walking with them. They may have a lot to talk about or nothing at all. They may just want someone near them just so they are not alone. The main thing is spending time with them.
They will have many questions, so answer their questions as best as you can but remind them that there are licensed professionals who could have better answers than you can give. Offer to go with them to their medical appointments and reassure them that you are there for them. No two people will have the same response to the diagnosis received. Some retreat into their home while others want to get out and “live” the rest of their life as much as possible. There is no right or wrong way to accept a terminal illness diagnosis. Whatever the patient decides, just be on board with their decision and be there for whatever they may need. You may have the greatest impact on their final days.
Denial is a stage in the grieving process. It is also a coping mechanism. Your friend or loved one may be in denial because they are scared or overwhelmed with the diagnosis and all the information that came with it. They could also be in denial because this new diagnosis takes control of their daily lives. No one likes to lose control, especially over their own body! Pain is another challenge that they may have to deal with as well. Your loved ones may feel that they have or will become a burden to their family and friends. You should be concerned if their denial is stopping or interfering with daily responsibilities. If bills are not being paid, offer to write the checks for them or pay them online. If pets are not being taken care of, offer to take them to the park, a walk, or pet sit while they get some rest. If you can’t help them or they won’t take your help, talk to a professional that can. The hospital, doctors, nurses, and social workers are all there to help in this trying situation as they have been through this before and know what tends to work. Your loved one knows you care but they are just having difficult times right now. Do not give up on them. They need you. Reassure them that you are there for them and be wary of expressions of suicidal thoughts or actions. You want them to live as long as possible. Sit with them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Know their fears. Everyone needs someone they can confide in especially during difficult times.
Death is difficult for anyone to accept, but we all have to go through it one day. Talk with your loved one that has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and find out what their wishes are. Do they want family and friends there when it is time for them to pass away? Do they want a clergyman to administer last rights? It is important to take care of yourself as well. Many caregivers often become exhausted and ill from the stress and physical toll. You have to stay well for your loved ones and the last thing you want is for them to worry about you.
When it is time for your loved one to pass, you will be dealing with many emotions. Let them know that you are going to be ok and that you love them, and it is ok for them to let go. Letting go is hard but it has to happen and grief will follow. It is not easy to watch your loved one die. Questions will arise, and you may or may not have the answers. Seek counseling and work through your feelings. Just know that you are not alone, and grieving is part of the process.