When a Spouse is Terminally Ill
When they wed, couples stand together and vow that they will love and take care of one another for the remainder of their days. Logically, most know that at some point, one spouse will become ill and die, leaving the other to carry on alone, but when the time arrives, it can come as quite a shock. Learning that a spouse is terminally ill is sure to be devastating, whether the couple has spent a lifetime together or have only recently spoken their vows.
In most marriages, both partners provide care for the other. One may handle most of the household chores, while the other prefers to run errands or cook meals, but together, couples typically settle into a routine to accomplish all of their tasks. When one falls ill, however, the other may find themselves shouldering all of the household and financial responsibilities, as well as providing hands-on care for the other. For some couples, this transition is seamless, but for others, the disruption of normal life can be quite stressful.
When a married person is diagnosed as terminal, it is often their spouse who becomes the primary caregiver, taking on roles of counselor, nurse, and personal assistant. Caring for a dying spouse can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally, though, so when friends or other family members offer their help, it would be wise to accept. Both partners may benefit from the break, giving the healthy spouse time to unwind and seek outlets for their stress and anxiety, while the ailing spouse can be relieved of the guilt that is sometimes felt when one is dependent on others to meet their everyday needs.
After receiving a terminal diagnosis, most people choose to share the sad news with close friends and family members. As the word spreads, members of the extended family may reach out to offer their help and well wishes, and may hope to make at least one visit while they have the opportunity. It is not uncommon for terminally ill patients to be reunited with loved ones who have been distant, but who hold a keen fondness for the ailing relative, and arranging these get-togethers is often done by the healthy spouse. It is also common for terminally ill patients to prefer the company of only a small circle of loved ones during their last weeks and months of life, and the difficult task of keeping others at bay without causing hurt feelings may fall to the caretaking spouse. When time is limited, it is important that the patients' wishes and preferences be honoured whenever possible.
Although all adults should probably have wills, living wills and if desired, ADRTs in place, many do not. When faced with a terminal illness, however, many patients feel a sense of urgency about clarifying their end of life wishes, and may want to have the legal papers drawn up. Having a legally binding document in place is the only way that terminal patients can assure that their end of life care will be given as they would want.
In addition to a living will or ADRT, the terminally ill often choose to review their wills, taking care to see that their estates will be disbursed in the manner that they wish. While some prefer to have a lawyer draw up the papers, do-it-yourself (DIY) wills are adequate for most people. Considerations when making a will include specifying the inclusion of step-children or common law spouses, if desired, as they are not automatically recognised as heirs, charitable donations, and any gifts of personal property.
Even with all the caring and wishing it wasn't so in the world, most couples will ultimately need to say goodbye as one partner readies for death. While the last weeks and months of life are sure to be emotion-packed and possibly hectic, it is important that couples make time to express their love for one another and allow the other to voice anything that they feel the need to say. Knowing that they have been truly loved can help a dying spouse to find a sense of peace about death, and by expressing positive emotions to and hearing the feelings of the ailing spouse, the surviving spouse will be left with no regrets.