When you hear that your loved one is suffering from a terminal disease, the first reaction is often shock and disbelief. Then you may feel overwhelmed, sad and helpless. But it’s important to accept the diagnosis and begin to think about practicalities, especially about how you will support your loved one during this difficult time.
Talking about a Diagnosis
Accepting a diagnosis means expressing the emotions you feel about it. For some of us, this comes naturally, but for others pretending it’s not happening is the default option. It’s a good idea to find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling; whether a close friend, relative or therapist. Once you have accepted the diagnosis yourself, you can help your loved one accept it as well.
When a relative has a terminal illness, there are many decisions which need to be made. It’s natural to try to jump in and solve all the issues, but it’s crucial to remember that the ill person is still able to make decisions for himself. When the illness is physical and not mental, you have to remember not to treat the patient as if he is mentally incapable. Although the time may come when other family members will have to make all the decisions, there is no reason to isolate your loved one and take away his ability to control his own destiny.
Emotionally supporting your loved one and encouraging communication will make the transition easier for everyone. Let them tell you how they feel and offer empathy without pitying them. Accept negative feelings without sharing your own difficulties and respect their need for physical and emotional privacy. Make your presence known by visiting, calling and sending cards, and listen to stories even if you have heard them before. Your loved one needs to hear about what’s going on in the world, so tell them what’s new with relatives and friends. Be honest with them about the details of their illness and any other questions they ask.
Sharing the Diagnosis
You may be the kind of person who rushes to tell friends and family every piece of news, or you may be the type who prefers to keep things to themselves. Either way, when it comes to sharing the diagnosis, the decision should be left up to the person who is ill. When they are ready for people to know about their disease, you can make the information public. Don’t expect a specific reaction when you do let people know. Everyone has a different way of coping – some will bring over casseroles, other will commiserate and some may not react at all. Let people process the news at their own pace and don’t force them to react in a certain way.
A terminal diagnosis is never easy to deal with, but by thinking about what’s best for your loved one, you can make this process easier for them, for you and for your entire family.