The following information has been provided by the
National Funeral Directors Association. We would like to thank them for allowing us to mirror some of the fine Consumer Information available at the NFDA Online website.
|Living with Dying|
We will all die someday. We know that, and intellectually we accept it. Yet few of us have lived so long and so fully that we are ready to die soon. When persons are told they have a terminal illness, the news can be crushingto them and their loved ones.
Reactions of a Dying Person
However, there are common reactions to a terminal illness. Persons who are dying will usually experience some of them.
They may deny at first that they are dying. "Those stupid doctors made a mistake!" they'll say. They may go to several other doctors, hoping that one will say they're not dying. They may try all kinds of "magic" cures.
They may try to negotiate their way out of death. "I'll go to church every day," they'll promise silently, or "I'll devote the rest of my life to helping others if I live." This denial acts as a buffer that allows the dying person to accept his or her death slowlyalthough some people never do.
Dying patients may become very angry. They may say to themselves, "Why me? I've been a good person; I don't deserve to die!" They may blame the doctors for not diagnosing the disease sooner and curing it. They may curse God for letting them die. They may be angry throughout the course of the illness, expressing hostility toward everyone around them.
They will almost certainly be afraid, for a number of reasons. They may fear death, but even more, they may also fear the process of dying. They may fear losing family, appearance, self-control and the ability to work or be useful.
The dying parent may feel guilty or ashamed that he or she must now be the one receiving care. A person may imagine that he or she is being punished for a past transgression, such as an extramarital affair. If losing control of bodily functions, he or she may feel ashamed. Depression is also common as all plans for the future are banished. Some withdraw from family, preferring to be alone and think.
Finally, but not always, your loved one may accept fate. This is the beginning of the grieving process where he or she is preparing for death.
Reactions of the Family
You may also deny at first that your loved one is dying. You may feel angry at the doctors who didn't prevent the disease. You may even be angry at your spouse for not taking care of himself or herself.
You may also bargain with God, offering to be a better person if He will spare your loved one. You may even offer to die instead.
You will probably also feel guilty. You may blame yourself for not insisting that your loved one see a doctor sooner. You may feel guilty for any past disagreements you've had with the dying person. You may feel guilty because you can't come up with comforting words. You may feel guilty simply for being healthy when your loved one is dying.
You may also feel panicky, wondering how you will survive without your loved one. You may slip into depression, lose your appetite or eat voraciously. You may be unable to sleep or sleep constantly. If your loved one keeps getting better then suffering relapses, you may feel as if you're on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Telling the Children
Remember, your children need to resolve their own grief. They will take their cues from you, so give them permission to grieve by letting them see your own grief. Don't try to "protect" them from the grieving process.
While nothing will make this situation easy, open communication will at least make it less difficult. We don't like to talk about death in our culture, and too often a dying person and the family ignore the subject. But you both need to express the strong emotions you are feeling. Ignoring them won't make them go away. So talk about your fears, and let your loved one talk too. Talk about what you must do to prepare for your loved one's death. Cry, and talk about your anger, guilt or depression.
One of the most common mistakes families make is to treat dying persons as though they're already dead, excluding them from family activities and discussions. This makes the dying person feel lonely and rejected. If your father is dying and you normally sought his advice, continue to seek it. If you shared stories about your children with your mother, continue to do so. In short, treat your loved ones like the living persons they are.
Meanwhile, you need to work through your own grief. Lean on your family and friends. Share your feelings with them. Try to lighten your schedule if it's heavy. Grief is stressful, and you don't need the added strain of too much to do. Find time to sit by yourself and put things in perspective.
Take care of yourself physically as well. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. Physical activity can help offset depression and provide you with an outlet for your emotional energy.
Now and then your grief may become so intense that you'll wonder if you need professional help. While there is no "normal" way to grieve, you might consider asking your clergyperson, doctor or funeral director to suggest a counselor. If nothing else, you may be relieved to discover that you are coping normally.
Alternatives to Hospitals
If your loved one prefers to remain at home, ask your doctor to recommend in-home medical services. You and other members of your family may need training on how to care for your loved one. Although caring for a dying person can be strenuous, you may later treasure this time you could spend together.
If home care isn't feasible, there is another alternativehospice care. Hospice care stresses comfort and a sense of community in addition to medical treatment. Hospice patients rest and receive care in large homes which may or may not be affiliated with hospitals, sections of hospitals or through home care programs. Most hospice care programs allow patients to have their personal belongings, choose their own schedules and activities and have visitors when they like.
A Final Note
In time, your grief will diminish. You haven't forgotten your loved one, but your relationship has changed. You can't enjoy their physical presence anymore, but they will continue to be a part of your life. Your memories and your feelings will live on.
|Copyright © 1998 National Funeral Directors Association|