Death After Life

When a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, everyone has a lot of questions.  Fortunately, time is usually on your side.  Terminal diagnoses are often given in the early stages of the illness.  We will go over ways to help you to say your final goodbyes to your loved one.

Sudden, unexpected deaths from terminal diagnoses are not as common as you would expect.  Treatment options and new medications help prolong life.  Studies have shown that people can live a great life for about five or six years after receiving a cancer diagnosis.  While the thought of having more time with family, friends and loved ones is a positive thing there is inevitability of death that you must accept and face.  Death will be looming and lingering over your head until the day it actually happens.  This can lead to anxiety.  This can lead to lifestyle changes.  This can lead to family problems.  This will also lead to your family having to deal with issues that they would normally take care of after you pass away.  A “road map” has been made so you and your family can navigate through this trying time.  This will help you know what to do when certain situations come up.  It can help you with the emotional roller coaster everyone will be on.  There will be many ups and downs and you may even have awful thoughts of wishing it would all just end already.  These feelings are normal, and you are not the only one to experience them.  After overcoming the initial shock to the diagnosis, your entire family will face all of those issues that may have been swept under the rug for many years.  It is time to work through these and resolve them before your loved one is no longer there.  We are going to go through the five stages to help you get through this difficult time in your life.  Remember, no two families are the same and no one will process these stages exactly alike.  There are no wrong answers.  These stages are not set in stone as far as how long each one lasts, and you may be dealing with more than one stage at any given time.

Stage one is when you receive the terminal illness diagnosis.  Everyone has many questions and very few answers.  Some things that will affect your feelings are what is your relationship like with the sick person, what stage your relationship is in and what are both your roles within the family.  At this stage there is a lot of anxiety. Guilt and anger are also common feelings especially if your relationship has been strained with the sick family member.  Support and guidance are very important during these early days after the diagnosis. Know who to get support from, who to give support to, share memories and know what to expect when the family is together.  Everyone is hurting and scared.  Be strong for each other.

Stage two is focused on unity.  This is usually where everyone puts their differences aside and come together as one.  The sick individual is going to need to be surrounded by as many loved ones as possible.  In this stage, the family should work as a team to ease the burden for the individual. One of the key things aside from helping with day-to-day activities, doctor’s visits etc., is to help get their affairs in order.   Make sure all-important paperwork is in order including wills, living wills, advance directives and power of attorney.  That way there is no confusion once your loved one has passed.

Stage three is known as upheaval.  All lives get disrupted at some point.  When a loved one is terminal, a lot of your daily activities get put on hold while you care for them.  Your feelings and emotions have been suppressed for a while now and they finally come to the surface.  Those feelings can include anger, resentment and guilt.  You may be shocked at how many of your other family members are feeling the same way.  It is ok to talk to them about this.  There is a lot going on and someone you love is dying.  If you don’t communicate with your family, talk to a therapist.  Holding in these feelings will only add to stress you are already experiencing, and it will put tension in relationships at a time when everyone is supposed to be coming together.

Step four is resolution.  This is when your ill loved one is getting worse.  There may be a few good days in between the bad ones.  Celebrate those.  Sit with them and remember the good times you’ve had.  Everyone will have different memories with the loved one.  You will feel a range of emotions sharing memories.  You will be happy and laugh, angry upset or overwhelmed.  A lot of times, in this stage, unresolved issues will be dealt with.  Your loved one may not have known of your feelings, but this is often when you both will find forgiveness and the closure you’ve been looking for.  Resentments, jealousy and rivalries can be dealt with so everyone can be at peace, not just your loved one that is passing away.  You might be surprised just how strong your bond ends up being once all of these issues have finally been dealt with.

Stage five is called renewal.  This stage begins when the celebration of your loved one’s life and funeral are taking place.  Relief is felt but sadness is right behind it.  You knew your loved one was going to die, and you are relieved that they are no longer suffering.  These feelings also normal and expected.  You have worked through a lot of things in the previous four stages.  You now have renewed relationships in your life because you have healed and let go of past problems.  You will navigate holidays and celebrations differently now.  You will have more family in your life in a positive way.

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