Terminal Illness

Terminal illness is difficult for the ill member and the family. Here is a scaffold to help you through it.

Death is an unknown frontier that we probably will never be able to explore. Its mystery and finality strike fear in the hearts of some and sadness in the hearts of others. One of the hardest things to deal with outside of dealing with one's own death, is the death of a sick loved one. This is especially true when a loved one passes due to a terminal illness. Watching declining health makes dealing with terminal illness difficult. What is important to realize is that the family member is going to die and that it is important to make their passing as peaceful as possible. In order to effectively help a loved one on their way, good financial, emotional, and legal planning is necessary.

When a person is terminally ill, they are very aware that their declining health is leading them towards death. They face this fact every second of their lives starting with the moment they find out they are afflicted with a terminal illness. No matter how nonchalant they may appear to be, inside they are going through many emotions. It is up to the family to be a net of support. Too many times family members are overwhelmed with their own grief. Instead of providing a joyful atmosphere, they generate an atmosphere of gloom and depression. This exacerbates the situation causing anger, apathy, and hopelessness within the family unit and the terminally ill patient.

The inevitable is going to happen. This fact will not change. Therefore, there is no need to focus on the impending death. Focus on making the last days, months, or years pleasurable and spirited. Moreover, be natural. Do not create a false environment of excess servility and joviality. This will annoy the terminally ill and stress the family. Keeping up such a false environment drains the family emotionally and physically and stresses the ill patient. Realizing that the family is doing so much to seemingly appease them can make the ill even more depressed. The best thing to do is to conduct life as normal as possible. The ill member may require certain care throughout the day. It is important to integrate their needs in as natural a manner as possible. If they are accustomed to cooking their own food and doing their own chores, allow them to continue if they are able. If they need assistance, then assist. Telling them that they should lay down and rest is discouraging. Unless they ask you to take over things they are accustomed to doing""don't.

Communication is the key for everyone getting through an illness. This includes planning legal and financial matters. Many times a person has already gotten their thoughts together concerning a will. If this has not occurred, it is necessary to assist the ill with obtaining legal council in order to get their estate in order. This is not a time to pressure them for certain belongings or to try and figure out to whom they are leaving things. The emphasis should be placed on their wishes being properly handled by an attorney and their debts being handled such that the family will not be in ruin after their passing. Communication should also be open regarding their final rites. Ask what sort of music they would like to be played, how they would like their obituary to read, what picture they would like used for their program, and any other details they would like to be present. If it seems that such a discussion is not desirable, do not force it. There is a saying that says the funerals are for the living. Thus, the living can plan a farewell that is suitable and honorable in their eyes if the ill member does not wish to plan it.

Remember that death is not an easy event to deal with or plan for. Emotions can be volatile and planning can be stressful. Realize that the patient may get reserved or spiteful as they near their end. Recognize that family is the greatest resource for the terminally ill. No matter how they act or react, the family has to be supportive. Death can destroy an otherwise cohesive family unit. A concerted effort by all close to the ill is the only way to make their exit peaceful and without residual negativity. Planning during declining illness will make the aftermath of the death easier. Most importantly there will be proper closure.

Once the family member has passed, it is important to preserve their memory. Gathering and talking about all the things the family loved about them is an excellent activity. Keeping pictures up around the home and certain personal items of the individual is another good idea. Some make the mistake of erasing all memory of the relative from their homes. People take down photos, box up belongings and clothing, and some even supress their desire to discuss their loss. This can go so far as getting angry when others are sharing memories. Imagine how such emotions are exacerbated if there was poor planning before their death.

Support, communication, and planning are the most important needs of a family dealing with a terminally ill member. Emotions swing, and everyone has to positively respond. People need to understand that any negativity present is not personal in origin. It is just a stress reaction to dealing with grief and loss. As long as life goes on as normally as possible during and after a person's terminal illness, emotionally all parties involved will come out with comfortable closure.

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