What to Do When You’re Diagnosed With a Terminal Illness

Everyone deals with death differently, but there are commonalities. Here are three common issues many people face when diagnosed with a terminal illness. Facing death brings up questions about the difference you made, who you affected, and what the afterlife will be like.

“I have come to realize that a short term or long term ‘death sentence’ sets up an experience of deep self-evaluation,” says writer and retreat facilitator Lauren McLaughlin. “It is essential that you as a dying person are allowed to come to grips with a few issues.”

Lauren highlights three questions that are common to people diagnosed with a terminal illness: 1) Has what you’ve done made a positive difference? 2) Have you reconciled old hurts so you aren’t leaving unresolved issues behind? and 3) Are you able to come to some sort of peace about whether there is an afterlife and how well you are prepared for it? Here, Lauren discusses her experience with people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Thoughts on Living With a Terminal Illness

A peaceful transition to death is possible. “If someone – a loved one, a counselor, a member of the clergy – can help you work through the above issues, your passing might be more peaceful,” says Lauren. She adds that if you can complete a few items on your bucket list, you might also accept a terminal illness more readily. As luck would have it, I recently wrote an article called How to Make a Bucket List! If you haven’t thought about the things you want to do and see before your terminal illness progresses too far, now’s the time

diagnosed terminally ill

“Diagnosis of a Terminal Illness” image via AdADurden, flickr

Talk to people in your life about the difference you’ve made. In the soul-searching that comes after the announcement that you have approximately X months or years to live because of a diagnosis of a terminal illness, most dying people that Lauren has worked with are really frantic to know that their life has made a difference.  “If they are young, they can usually be helped to discover their significant contributions by allowing them to share the things that were important to them,” says Lauren. “Sometimes it helps to get in touch with some of the people involved in those events to anchor the positive experience for them.”

Embrace and share your legacy. Whether or not you’re elderly, you may have made a tangible legacy. This is the time to bring it forward, to embrace and enjoy. Consider asking for help recording memories of events and experiences from your life – and the wisdom you’ve acquired in the process – so you can pass it on to your children and grandchildren.  After you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness is a good time to sit down and go through old family pictures, and perhaps even create albums to help you and your loved ones remember the important times. This can help you prepare for death in a healthy, fulfilling way.

Talk about your experience of facing a terminal illness. Lauren encourages loved ones to allow a dying family member to talk through anything and everything that is bothering them, and resolve anything they need to resolve before they die. This will help bring peace of mind. If you’re scared to die, learn how to take the fear out of death alongside your loved ones.

Establish your purpose in the present – even if you have a terminal illness. “You aren’t dead until you draw your last breath!” says Lauren. “Nobody wants to feel like a burden or excess baggage. Even elderly people can do simple household chores – fold clothes, fill salt and pepper shakers, do mending or make simple repairs, paint the mail box, grow herbs, read bedtime stories into a tape recorder for their great grandchildren, pair socks.  The chore itself isn’t important, but the sense of being needed is very important.”

getting diagnosis terminal illness

“Thoughts on Terminal Illness Diagnosis” interview with Lauren McLaughlin

Lauren encourages everyone – whether or not we’re dealing with a diagnosis of a terminal illness – to fulfill a want or a dream. Even if you’ve been diagnosed with a long-range terminal illness, you can still do things – including travel, or even find your life purpose! You just may need a little help.

Lauren McLaughlin is part of a team of thousands of teachers whose purpose is to remind those who wish to remember that they are deeply and dearly loved by the Creator and Sustainer of All Life, that the answers to the most important questions are carefully stored in their hearts, and that they deliberately chose the human experience for the sheer fun of it. Connect with her at ELF (Eternal Life Force).

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