Grief is often thought to be a process that begins after someone has died, but the reality is that grief can start from the moment a serious or life-limiting illness is diagnosed. It affects not only the people he or she will leave behind but the individual themselves as they grapple with their future death and with fundamental questions about who they are and the nature of existence.
Carers of a terminally ill family member may not want to share their feelings for fear of upsetting or discouraging them, and at the same time, they bear the physical and financial strain of assisting them and paying medical bills. Tensions within the family unit can further add to the grief of the one dying.
The five stages of grief are:
- Shock – crisis in the whole family. Feeling numb or in disbelief or feeling angry
- Unity – pulling together as a family to face the crisis, decide on medical treatment and how to move forward
- Guilt, resentment and upheaval when it is realized nothing more can be done. The dying person could feel fear and worry how his family will cope. He may have depression.
- Resolution – As death draws near, family members or the patient himself may want to address any rifts or heal misunderstandings.
- Renewal – This can occur in the patient before death as he accepts and welcomes the new reality or it can come for relatives after the death when they may feel a sense of relief that the physical pain has ended.
Family Unity Eases Anxiety in the Terminally Ill
In families that struggle to accept the impending death, they may not move as easily through the stages of grief, and this can cause depression for everyone. A recent study of 100 terminally ill patients found that the less adaptable their families were to the situation, the more anxiety and depression they felt.
Grief support providers like the Hospice of the Calumet Area in Indiana can help families of end-stage patients and is a way to reduce stress and symptoms of depression in the dying and their relatives, so they can enjoy their last precious moments together.
Grief has five stages, but they begin well before a person dies and can affect everyone, including the patient himself. Counseling to explore feelings and assist in coming to terms with the diagnosis can benefit carers and reduce depression in the terminally ill to make their passing easier.