Finding out that a loved one has a terminal illness is absolutely devastating. There are no words that can really describe it. But as horrible as the experience is for you, it’s a thousand times worse for your loved one. Understandably, you therefore want to try and support them as much as possible. But what can you do to make the entire situation a little easier on your loved one?
You don’t have to talk to them about it if they don’t want to, but having the relevant information about their condition will be enormously helpful. Knowing what symptoms to look out for and knowing how to help them through, both physically and emotionally, will allow you to provide some reassurance and support.
Make sure you only take information from reputable sources, charities and organisations, however. The internet is full of information but not all of it is accurate or useful.
Do, don’t ask
Sometimes, making a decision is simply too much for someone facing a terminal illness. Even something as simple as ‘what would you like for dinner’ or ‘ would you like me to come over and help with some housework’ can be a burden. So, sometimes the best thing you can do for them is just show up or just do the task. Make some dinner or do their washing. Just do it and take one less thing off their mind.
Understand that you don’t understand
We try and empathise as much as we can, but there are certain things that we simply can’t understand because we’re not going through it ourselves. Remember that your loved one might make some unexpected or uncharacteristic choices that you simply don’t understand or agree with.
For example, they may decide that they don’t want anybody to know that they are sick. They may cut themselves off socially and hide away so that they don’t have to deal with it You may not agree with it and it may make life incredibly difficult at times, but that’s their choice and you have to respect it.
Unfortunately, with a terminal illness, there are some logistics to consider. Although these will be the last thing on anyone’s mind, you need to start thinking ahead about things such as whether they want to die at home or in hospital, whether they’ve written a will or what kind of funeral they want.
How you approach the subject of a funeral (or any of these issues) will depend entirely on your relative. They may want to discuss it in detail or they may want to push it as far as possible from their mind. This will have to be a pure judgement call from you.
But regardless of what your relative wants to talk about, you can start planning the funeral ceremony before they pass. Whether it’s quietly noting down certain things they like or actively discussing how they want things to happen, you can start putting together an idea of what they want. You don’t have to organise anything officially beforehand, but the more you think about at this stage, the easier it will be to organise a farewell service when the time does come.
If this is the first funeral you’ve organised, try reaching out to companies like Olsens Funerals to get some advice and information about what it involves. Many good funeral directors have various templates that you can work from so that you can personalise the service without having to choose every single aspect of proceedings.
Simply be there
There’s no one ‘normal’ reaction to dealing with a terminal illness. Everyone reacts and behaves differently. But whether your loved one decides to climb a mountain, abseil down a skyscraper or simply stay at home watching movies, the best thing you can do is just be there. Listen if they want to talk, distract them if they want to forget and show them that you care simply by being present.
Dealing with a terminal illness is devastating for everyone involved. And whilst you need to show support, love and care however possible, don’t forget to look after yourself too.