The Will to Live | Supporting a Terminally Ill Loved One

Friday, 18 March 2022

Knowing how to comfort a loved one who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness can be challenging. What do you say? What do you do? How do you cope?

As heartbreaking and painful as it is, when a loved one is experiencing terminal illness, you have an opportunity to make the most of the precious time you have together. This can include making positive memories, saying goodbye properly, helping them get their affairs in order and making sure their wishes are carried out.

Our short guide will help you understand some of the emotions you may experience, some of the things you may wish to consider, helping you cope, and some of the information you could find out from your loved one to make sure that, when the time comes, you are prepared.

Coping with anticipatory grief

Firstly, knowing a loved one is suffering from a terminal illness means you may grieve deeply for their loss before it happens.

You may experience a whole range of emotions, it’s common to feel, guilt, denial, sorrow, depression, and anger. Although not everyone experiences anticipatory grief, it’s important to understand and recognise that this is a deeply emotional time and the feelings you experience are completely normal.

If you’re struggling to cope, you may wish to consider talking with close friends or family members, joining a support group online or face to face.

Talking to friends and family

Hearing the news that a loved one is gravely ill is difficult to deal with. Your loved one may ask you to tell family members and close friends, making the situation more stressful.

The important thing is to tell others when you feel comfortable and ready. Telling friends and family can actually help you cope, as you share the heavy burden of the loss and grief that you have been carrying on your own.

Talking about passing on. And saying goodbye

Loss of life is such a difficult subject to talk about, but when someone has terminal illness it’s one that is unavoidable. Not every person who is experiencing terminal illness is ready to talk about their own passing, and you may well feel unable to broach the subject because it is too painful. Others, however, will want to talk.

Some people need reassurance that you are there for them whatever happens. Others just want someone to talk to, to pass on stories and memories – anything that distracts them from what is going on. Others want empathy and need you to understand how they feel about what is happening to them, and how it will affect those they leave behind.

Our daily lives are so busy that often we don’t say the things we’d like to each other. When a person is dying it can be the right time to say the things that need to be said, so you can be at peace with each other. This could be sharing your appreciation for them, asking for forgiveness, or forgiving them if necessary. Knowing that they’ve said what they need to can be a huge relief to both you and your loved one.

Creating precious memories

When a loved one is terminally ill you may want to do something to celebrate their life and create lasting positive memories. For instance, spend time together at a gathering with family members and close friends, or a short break. An outing to one of their favourite places might be appropriate, perhaps somewhere significant to you both.

The best thing to do is talk to your loved one to find out what, if anything, they’d like to do. It might be the case that they have made a list and you can help them fulfil their wishes.

Talking about the funeral

It can be difficult to talk about funerals, even with those we are closest with. But often people have given it some thought and will have an idea of what they would like. This could include the type of service they want, to the music that is played and whether they’d prefer burial or cremation.

If you are able to talk to your loved ones about their funeral, you can ensure they get the funeral they want. You could ask them:

  • What music they’d like played before, during and after the service
  • What sort of transport they’d like
  • Whether they’d like flowers or donations. If donations are preferred; which charity or charities would they like to benefit?
  • What clothes they’d like to be dressed in
  • Where would they like people to go after the service? Will catering be needed?
    Who they’d like the pall bearers to be – family, friends, work colleagues?

It’s a good idea to write down your loved ones answers so that you are clear about their wishes, and you don’t forget anything. This will make the process of arranging the details of the funeral much less painful when the time comes.

The first step will be contact a Funeral Director. Our friendly and professional team are on hand to advise and support you with any decisions you will need to make.