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Because family life matters

Facing death after a terminal illness

Support for those facing the end of life after a terminal illness.

‘I’m sorry – there’s little else we can do’

Spoken by the medical profession, these are words that can shatter the lives of families who have been hoping against hope that treatment would cure or slow the progress of a life-threatening illness. Already emotionally scarred and physically tired by the roller-coaster ride of alternating hope and despair, this news brings with it a whole new and difficult set of circumstances to cope with and adjust to.

The way we get through this most harrowing of experiences will differ for everyone depending on a whole range of factors. These will include who it is who is ill, the family relationships involved, individual needs and personalities, and practical issues relevant to the particular illness. Faith can play a vital part in the way we cope – but issues of mortality can also challenge faith like nothing else.

Because of all these factors, if we are facing this journey we must plot our own way through the storm. There are however some ‘signposts’ that might help to point the way.

  • Be as honest as you feel you are able to be – certainly within your immediate family and with close friends you can trust. You will need as much support as you can get and knowing that others are there for you is important.
  • Do seek help to deal with both practical and emotional issues. Hospices and other charities working in this area have valuable experience and expertise of helping families through the toughest of times.
  • You may feel a mix of strong emotions – perhaps shock, denial and a sense of ‘Is this really happening to me?’ It might be difficult to think too far ahead, but do try to live each day as best you can.
  • Make sure that any children involved are included in discussions and decisions as much as is possible and appropriate. Hospices and other specialist charities will know the best way to help them.
  • Don’t let circumstances control. Find out as much as you can about what is likely to happen and decide with your loved one how they want to travel this journey. Make sure others are aware of their and your wishes.
  • Do all you can to create good memories and deal with as many relationship issues as you can.
  • Regrets may complicate the future. Make sure there are few ‘if onlys’ and ‘should haves’ left.
  • Think carefully through what you believe about life and death. If you have a faith, talk to your spiritual advisor. If not, you might want to consider talking to your local church leader.

However hard it may seem, families going through the experience of having a loved one with a terminal illness do get through. Yes, there will be very difficult days with much pain and heartbreak, and perhaps many questions that there are no answers to, but as an old verse says: ‘There is a time to be born and a time to die.’ For some that time will be much earlier than had been hoped. The same verse says that there will be times to weep and mourn and times to laugh and dance. Although for a time the family that is left may be consumed by weeping and mourning, there can be hope that one day you can rebuild your lives – and even dare to dream that one day you can laugh again.

The BBC has put together some helpful information for families coping with a terminal illness. It also has good links to charities and other organisations that offer support. The local hospice may be able to help as well. Further information and how to find the nearest hospice can be found at the Help the Hospices website. Another website that provides good information (particularly from a practical point of view) is Dying Matters.