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How to Deal With Grief After a Terminal Illness Diagnosis

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anticipatory_griefIt’s hard to think about death, let alone talk about it. And when someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it isn’t always easy to know how to react. All of a sudden, time seems to stop right in its tracks.

Just as with grief after the loss of a loved one, family members and friends may feel a multitude of different emotions after hearing the news.

Although painful in so many ways, a terminal illness offers you time to say goodbye. It also gives you time to talk about and plan for a death as it approaches.

Below, we offer tips to help families deal with the grief that accompanies a terminal illness diagnosis.

1. Talk About It 

Often, people feel anticipatory grief when someone they care about is terminally ill. Anticipatory grief means grappling with and grieving a loss before it occurs.

During this time, there are many losses to grieve—for the person who is dying, as well as for their family members and friends. You may grieve the future, and what could or should have been, as well as dreams and hopes that you had.  

This is normal, and although not everyone experiences anticipatory grief, you may find the following steps comforting:  

  • Spend time with your loved one.
  • Check off items on your loved one’s bucket list.
  • Express your appreciation to your loved one.
  • Join a support group.
  • Read books and listen to podcasts about grief or your loved one’s condition.
  • Talk with supportive family members and friends who have weathered similar situations.

Doing so will allow you to make the most of the time you have left with your loved one.

2. Process It

Denial is a coping mechanism following news about a terminal illness. You or your loved one might be in denial about the disease because reality is too frightening or overwhelming to process.

Part of this has to do with fear of the unknown. You don’t want to think about life without the person you love, but having conversations about it will allow you to process what’s inevitably coming, so your life isn’t turned upside down when it does.  

Taking the time to process the news will allow you to be present in your final weeks and months together.

3. Plan For It

Finally, you’ll want to plan for it. After all, most people like to feel in control over decisions that affect their lives. Discussing death while you still have time together allows you and your family to make informed decisions about services.

You can help your loved one decide between burial and cremation, and their desire for an informal gathering or formal visitation. You can also help them plan for personalization and memorialization, including flower arrangements, video tributes and more that they would like to see incorporated.

This gives you and your family peace of mind, knowing final wishes are documented before the death occurs.

Learn How Preplanning Saves Time, Money and Worry

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you can lift the emotional and financial burden from your family by preplanning. If you’re interested in preplanning final arrangements for you or your loved one, we encourage you to download the Seniors’ Guide to Funeral Arrangements. Our guide explains what preplanning is, and offers insights on the benefits of arranging ahead of time.

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Cathy Nichols
Cathy Nichols
Considers it an honor as a Certified Celebrant to listen to life stories, and then design and conduct meaningful tributes. Cathy also trains celebrants nationally, equipping them to share those legacies in ways that comfort and enlighten. Honorably serving Busch families since 2004.

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