Finding out you or your loved one has a terminal illness will begin a journey. This journey will involve mentally and emotionally preparing for death. You will want to ensure that pain is alleviated from the body, address any depression and/or anxiety, create a comfortable living space, prepare for funeral arrangements, and ensure financial and personal assets are in order.
A terminal diagnosis does not have to mean enduring pain. As soon as possible, begin developing a pain management plan with your healthcare providers and hospice. Depending on where it is located, pain can be managed with medications, meditation, massages, and more. Pain management requires an ongoing assessment of physical and emotional pain. It will involve adjusting medication depending on new symptoms and tolerance.
Handling Your Emotions
For people facing a terminal diagnosis and their loved ones, their own mortality is a difficult concept to face — whether or not it is expected. Knowing there is a time frame can be a blessing because you have time to make preparations, but it is a curse since you need to face the inevitable head-on, which can cause depression and anxiety about facing the unknown. You may feel additional feelings of loss, sadness, anger, or fear. It’s important to seek support and, perhaps, counseling to handle the emotions of it all. If you approach it one day at a time, give yourself the grace to have bad days, focus on the joys in your life, and tackle the emotions as they arise, you will be able to manage the emotional obstacles.
Creating a Comfortable Environment
In addition to preparing mentally and physically, it should be a priority to create a peaceful and comfortable environment. Whether you or your loved one are choosing or required to spend your last days at home or in an assisted facility, attention should be paid to the surroundings. Start by creating a clean space filled with familiar objects, such as photos, artwork, books, and other beloved treasures. Allowing a pet to stay nearby can provide comfort, familiarity, and unconditional love. The living space should be suitable for adequate care and soothing.
Planning for a funeral or memorial service can be taxing on loved ones when they are under pressure to complete the tasks in a short time while struggling with grief. The more preparations that are made and paid for in advance, the more organized — and better — the service will be.
Some decisions that need to be made are:
Burial or cremation?
If burial, what outfit to be buried in?
If cremation, do you want ashes spread somewhere, and if so, where?
Church or funeral home service?
Post reception at a house, funeral home, or another venue?
If burial, what kind of coffin?
If cremation, what kind of urn?
Certain legal documents should be created in order to ensure that you or your loved one’s wishes are being adhered to. A living will, also known as an advanced directive, should be executed to specify which medical treatments should or should not be administered — particularly life-prolonging measures. A health care power of attorney will appoint a person to act in the place of the declarant in the case they cannot make medical decisions and the choices are not covered under the living will. A durable power of attorney should be executed so the agent can make the business/financial decisions prior to death. Decisions should be made in a last will and testament, directing where to disburse personal and real property upon death.
If you or your loved one is facing a terminal diagnosis, there are steps you can take to prepare for a death with dignity and peace. Actively addressing the physical and emotional issues that arise is critical. Creating a soothing and comforting environment will make all the difference in the world in those last days. Finally, making funeral plans and working through the legal, medical, and financial documents will take the stress away from loved ones. Experiencing a terminal illness is heartbreaking, but it also presents a chance to face death on your own terms.
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