One of the most difficult jobs for a medical practitioner is to covey the message “please your loved one is terminally ill, and has a short time to live”, to a relative. It is even easier for us to inform a relative about the death of a loved one, which is derivable from the adage – “sorrow is better than fear, because fear is a journey while sorrow is at least an arrival”. A terminally ill patient is on a fearful journey of death.
Doreen was shocked when her husband, Matthew, only 54 years of age, was diagnosed with an acutely aggressive brain tumor. Doctors gave her husband only a few months to live. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” she recalls. “I was totally numb for weeks. It felt as if it were happening to someone else, not to us. I was not prepared.”
Sadly, Doreen reaction is not uncommon. A terminal disease can afflict anyone at any time. Commendably, many willingly take up the task of caring for a loved one who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Yet, care giving is a formidable challenge.
1) What can family members do to comfort and care for their terminally ill loved one?
2) How can caregivers cope with the range of emotions they may experience throughout the course of the illness?
3) As death approaches, what can be expected?
First, though, let us consider why caring for the terminally ill is a unique challenge today.
A modern dilemma.
• Medical science has changed the nature of dying. A century or so ago, even in more developed lands, the average life span was much shorter. People died quickly from infectious diseases or accidents. Access to hospitals was limited, and most people were cared for by families and died at home.
• Today, medical advances have enabled Physicians to fight illness aggressively in order to prolong life. Diseases that would have ended a person’s life quickly in times past may now stretch out over many years. However, this extended life may not represent a cure. Patients often have severe infirmities that render them incapable of caring for themselves. Caring for such individuals has become much more complicated and demanding.
• Consequently, more and more, death has moved from the home to the hospital. Most people today are unfamiliar with the dying process. And a few have ever actually witnessed someone dying. Fear of the unknown, then, may hinder or paralyze a person’s efforts to care for a terminally ill family member. What can help?
Plan in advance.
a) • As illustrated in the case of Doreen, many people feel devastated when a loved one is diagnosed with a fatal illness. Amid intense anxiety, fear, and grief, what can help you to prepare for the road ahead?
b) • If you are a person of faith, go to God in prayer to; “Teach us how to count our days so that we may acquire a heart of wisdom”. Yes pray earnestly for God to show you how to ‘count your days’ wisely so that you can use the remaining days with your loved one in the best possible way.
c) 3rd point takes good planning. If your loved one is still able to communicate and is willing to address the matter, it may be wise to ask him – who should make decisions for him when he is no longer able to do so. Frank discussion about whether he wishes to be resuscitated, hospitalized, or submitted to certain treatments, can minimize misunderstandings and feelings of guilt on the part of the family members, who are forced to make decisions for an incapacitated patient. Early and open communication allows the family to focus on providing care during illness. Plans fail when there are no consultation.
How do we assist a dying loved one?
I) • Usually the caretaker’s primary role is to provide comfort. A dying person needs to be reassured that he is loved and not alone
2) • How can this be done? Read or sing to the patient, choosing literature and songs that are up building and enjoyable to him.
3) • Many people are comforted when a family member holds their hand and speaks softly to them.
4) • It is often helpful to identify any visitors. One report states: “Hearing is the last of five senses to be lost. Hearing may still remain very acute although the [patients] may seem asleep, so do not say anything in their presence, you would not say to them when awake.
Culled from “The Watchtower” No 4, 2017.
Next week we shall complete this, as we discuss the final weeks of life.
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