The Art of Saying Goodbye: What to Do for a Terminally Ill Loved One

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Death—an inevitable end for each of us but an event people rarely want to talk about or even consider. When you are faced with the death of a loved one, sometimes it feels like your world has come crashing down on you. Some would prefer a quick and painless death, while others dream of dying with their loved ones around them, having said everything they wanted to say and leaving with no regrets.

But we rarely get to choose the manner and circumstances around the death of a loved one. Sometimes, we are left sitting numbly in a doctor’s waiting room, gripping hands with our loved ones after a terminal diagnosis has been made.

When you are faced with the unthinkable, what do you do? Be assured that it is normal for you or your loved one to go through various emotions while coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis. You might find yourself swinging between denial, anger, depression, anxiety, and sorrow while helping a loved one through their last days.

If you’re feeling lost or at your wit’s end as to how to help the person you love who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, read the practical advice collated below to help guide you in the right direction.

Ask the Experts

Unless you have a career in palliative care or have been around people dealing with death for the majority of your life, you should look to medical professionals who know the ins and outs of palliative care. And even if you are a familiar hand at dealing with death, sometimes it hits different when the patient you are now taking care of is someone you love and know intimately.

To help make the process easier for everyone involved, you are highly encouraged to consult palliative care services to ensure practical physical comfort for your loved one and emotional support for you, your friends, and your family.

Write It Down

Although sometimes it would be easier to ignore the legal side of things, you and your loved one will have to think ahead and consider putting all legalities to avoid trouble further down the road. Some of the things that will need planning and legal written proof are wills and trusts, assigning a personal representative for the patient should they need one in the future, putting taxes in order, and coming up with any medical directives for the medical professionals caring for your loved one (such as “Do Not Resuscitate” orders).

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Focus on Comfort

Expect that as much as you are hurting, your loved one will also be going through conflicting emotions of their own. As much as possible, be physically and emotionally present for them during this stage of their life. Listen to them express their thoughts and fears. Should they want to reconnect with anyone, do your best to contact and arrange for visits.

Take this time to also say things to your loved one that you’ve long been wanting to say. Expect some people to ask for reassurance that they will be taken care of up until their last breath, while others may be looking for empathy regarding their fears of death. Allow your loved one to guide the conversation—they will talk of hard topics when they feel ready to.

Be Ready for Goodbye

Nothing can ever really prepare you for the final goodbye. But you can lessen the ache and shock of death by being aware of the physical signs that your loved one will be leaving you soon. Some common signs that death is near will be restlessness and agitation, increased periods of sleep, loss of appetite, and irregular breathing.

Some people hold on till the last minute, fighting against the pain because they worry about leaving you and the ones they love. Reassuring them that it is okay to rest usually helps your loved one move on more peacefully, but do not feel the need to say this if you are not ready to say so.

Facing the death of someone dear to you is considered one of the lowest moments in anyone’s life. Dealing with such a task is overwhelming, so do not be ashamed to lean on others—from your friends to medical and legal professionals—who will help carry you through this emotionally taxing time in you and your loved one’s life. Despite all the arrangements you will need to make, do not forget to take this time to live in the moment, treasuring memories you can still make with your loved one.

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