Life that deteriorates from a great one to one where every day is a struggle can be devastating to witness. Every day, from the patient’s initial diagnosis to their last breath, becomes filled with hopes that a miracle will help the person recover from this illness that has become a death sentence. Dealing with terminal illness begins as soon as a physician gives his or her diagnosis.
Often, families in this situation need support in moving through stages of grief after being given such a diagnosis. The person who is ill is not only emotionally connected to the family, but they also play an important role in the way the family functions.In the crisis stage, this diagnosis and the person’s impending demise upsets the entire family balance and dynamic. Common emotions to this news are sorrow, anxiety and even anger. During this time, families need guidance and direction as it relates to where to get support.
After getting advice on helping a loved one through this end-of-life process, families should become unified so the burden of care does not rely on just one person. Other family members can help spouses and children to work with the medical team, navigate the social services maze, and help the family handle the legal end-of-life processes.
The third stage is one where families experience an amalgam of conflicting emotions as it relates to the quality of life of the individual. Much of life for the family is put on hold while family members watch the person go through the traumas related to the deterioration of their health. The most important part of this stage is for everyone in the family to honestly express their feelings in order to avoid any resentment after the loved one’s passing.
The resolution stage involves family members having both good and bad memories of the patient and their own role in family dynamics. More importantly, strengthening the family bond becomes vital because the person’s health has seriously deteriorated at this point. Ending old rivalries and jealousies and any long-held resentments is important in supporting each other without friction. In addition, it is important to discuss funeral arrangements, last will and testaments, and family finances.
The last stage is one of renewal in the sense that the ailing family member has passed on.Surviving relatives will experience both sadness and relief – sadness for the loss and relief that the person is no longer suffering. Celebrating the life of the individual at the funeral, memorial, or cremation services is a part of coming to terms with this loss.
In dealing with the diagnosis of a terminal illness, no one is ever prepared for losing a loved one. As the person slips between health and severe illness and sometimes appears to recover from the illness, emotions will yo-yo between happiness and sadness and then complete acceptance throughout the entire process. Fortunately, with the family’s support, everyone one involved can get the help needed to survive the emotional trauma that results from this type of death.