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When a Friend is Terminally Ill

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 14 Apr 2016 | comments*Discuss
Terminally Ill Friends Respite Care Five

Friends add so much to our lives; they provide us with laughter, fun, boosts to our egos, and outlets for stress when the responsibilities of work and family become overwhelming. For many people, their dearest friends are often closer than family, so learning that a friend is terminally ill can be devastating.

Helping Your Friend to Cope

A terminal diagnosis is almost always shocking – even if symptoms have been present for some time and were specific enough to suggest serious illness, the notion that a cure is not available and that death is expected is sure to be overwhelming. In her groundbreaking work about grief, death, and dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial: A sense of disbelief is common upon diagnosis. “This can’t be happening.”
  2. Anger: The injustice of a terminal diagnosis is undeniable. “This is not fair!”
  3. Bargaining: At this point, the patient looks toward a specific event that they hope to attend. “Please let me live to see my youngest get married.”
  4. Depression: Considerable sadness and a sense that nothing matters is experienced by many terminal patients. “Why bother?”
  5. Acceptance: Fortunately, many terminally ill patients do come to a sense of peace and acceptance. “I’ve been blessed and everything will be alright.”

While not all terminally ill patients experience all five stages, many go through at least a few of them. Friends can help by providing a willing and compassionate ear, allowing their dying friend to freely voice all of their emotions without fear of judgment. Often, that is one of the greatest gifts of friendship – having a safe place to express even your darkest thoughts, knowing that they will be received in a caring and accepting fashion. Being able to work through their fears and complicated emotions can help terminally ill patients to reach the point of acceptance.

Handling Your Own Feelings

Although dear friends surely want to provide emotional support for their dying friends, it can be quite hard to provide assistance to another’s grieving process whilst you are grieving, too. Anticipatory grief refers to the feelings associated with an impending death, before the loss actually occurs. A terminal diagnosis changes many lives – that of the patient, of course, but it also affects close friends and loved ones, who must learn how to cope with an uninvited and unwelcome loss. Those who are close to a dying person should take time for themselves and should also find someone with whom they can talk about their feelings of fear and sadness. Losing a treasured friends is akin to losing a family member, and the process can be quite difficult.

Offering Assistance

Often, the primary caregivers of terminally ill patients are close family members, but providing constant care can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Even if they are not available to help on a regular basis, friends can offer their help on an as-needed basis, so that family members can get some much needed rest and time away from their caregiving duties. Running errands, transporting the patient to medical appointments, cooking meals, offering housekeeping, and providing simple companionship can all be helpful to terminally ill patients and their overwhelmed families. Respite care can give families the time that they need to come back to their duties refreshed and ready.

"A friend is someone who is there for you when he'd rather be anywhere else." – Len Wein

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