Guest Blog: Grief and Dignity: Honoring a Terminally Ill Loved One

*This article was written by Lucille Rosetti.  Rosetti runs and will publish a book on the grieving process later this year.*

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Watching a much-loved older family member gradually decline is always a painful experience. It’s especially difficult when it becomes clear their condition is terminal. A complex emotional response kicks in, and loved ones begin to experience anticipatory grief, a common reaction that occurs prior to an impending loss. Family members may grieve for months, or even years, depending on the longevity and nature of their relative’s illness. Individuals may experience guilt from having, on some level, accepted that a loved one is beyond any hope of recovery. Other emotional symptoms may include anger, depression, or fear.

It’s important to understand that anticipatory grief is natural and that there are healthy ways to cope with it. One excellent strategy is to honor your loved one’s life while they’re still with you. According to HomeAdvisor, “After all, that’s what it’s all about: caring for your loved one and treating him or her as you would want to be treated. As long as we show kindness and compassion to our loved ones throughout the process, they will be able to say goodbye with the dignity they deserve.”

Using the time left

Think about how you and your loved one can best spend your remaining time together. Do what you can to make the time as meaningful as possible. Some people may want to reminisce about the past as a way of preparing themselves mentally and emotionally for death. Encourage such an exchange as a very personal way of honoring your relative’s life and their recollections of it. It’s a loving and personal form of emotional sharing under trying circumstances. If your relative prefers to deal with practical matters, such as directives concerning their estate or details about the celebration of their life, do what you can to help and be a considerate listener.

Communicate openly

Preserving a terminally ill relative’s dignity is important as the end of their life nears. As you spend time together, communicate openly and don’t shy away from discussing things that he or she wishes to talk about. They may need someone to talk to, a confidant whom they trust and love and someone they can share thoughts and feelings they might not be comfortable sharing with someone else. Consider it an honor and take advantage of the opportunity to engage in emotional sharing. Remember, you don’t have to drive the conversation. You can take their lead, but don’t deny their feelings or try to change the subject because you feel uncomfortable.

Show respect

Respect your relative by adhering to their wishes. Never assume that your loved one’s condition means they’re incapable of making decisions. Some final arrangements may still need to be made. Remember, they’re not your decisions to make unless your relative has specifically asked you to make them. Honoring a loved one means respecting their wishes to the very end, not taking over because you’ve decided you know best or because you’ve arbitrarily decided to remove the burden of decision-making from them. There are some things they need to handle, as long as they’re physically and mentally able to do so.

Keep the peace

Another way of honoring your relative is to maintain the peace and dignity of their environment. The last thing you want to do is contribute to fear or confusion at this time. Leave all disputes and disagreements for another time, to be worked out somewhere else. Your loved one’s space should be treated with honor, and everything should be done to maintain peace and quiet.

Make sure everyone understands the importance of maintaining a loved one’s dignity as death nears. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated. And remember, it’s all about honoring their life, as you cope with grief and the anticipation of death.

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