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Helping a Terminally Ill Person Come to Terms with their Health


A person recently diagnosed with a terminal illness can feel powerless and like they don’t have any control.   It is important to remember to be patient with the terminally ill person, as this is something they will want to continually discuss.  The response of people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness can run the spectrum of responses.  It is very common for the terminally ill person to experience extreme sadness, denial, mood swings, and anger. 

As the close friend or family member, it is important to acknowledge and recognize your own feelings.  It is also necessary to encourage your relative/friend to talk about their feelings.  Remember, the ill person is not necessarily looking to you to solve their problems or give advice; they just need someone to visit and listen.   Relationships usually don't change when someone has received a terminal diagnosis.  Build in the strengths in the relationship that were in place before the diagnosis was given.  If you were a person who provided comic relieve throughout your relationship with the individual, continue to provide a few good laughs.  If you went to movies, or talked on the front porch, continue to be available.

Allow your relative or friend be a part of any decisions that are made regarding their health. Find out what they want, and let them make decisions and support their desires.   Help your family member of friend research information regarding their illness and what they can expect in the coming months.  If the person is overwhelmed, you can conduct the research yourself, and then attend the Dr. visits with them armed with your new information.  Find experts and possible support groups so they can have other people to discuss their feelings and plans.  It is also nice if the ill person has something to look forward to each week.  Consider arranging an activity or visitors as this will give the person a sense of excitement.

Sometimes pre-planning funerals can help terminally ill patients feel a sense of comfort and control during this difficult time.  The patient may also take comfort in knowing that they are helping to take stress and pressure off of loved ones by making important decisions about their final arrangements.  There are several options that you can discuss, such as whether to have a funeral or memorial service, cremation, casket selections, funeral program designs, poems, scriptures and much more.

As the illness progresses, it may appear the person is having difficulty letting go.  Ask the person if there is any one person in particular they would like to see or have visit.  Depending on the person’s religious beliefs, they may want to talk to a clergy member.

These suggestions will help the person find closure in their lives.  If the person seems to be afraid to be alone, it is okay to tell them you will be with them, and it is okay to let go.