Before funerals at funeral homes in Dayton, OH, when you have a loved one that is terminally ill, the grief you experience not be the same as the grief you will experience when they die or that you experience when a loved one dies unexpectantly.
One thing that makes the grief we experience when a loved one is terminally ill different from other kinds of grief is knowing that they will die, but not knowing when they die or how that will look.
Doctors can predict average survival times in terminal illnesses, but they cannot tell us or our loved ones exactly how much time they have left to live. That leaves us in a heightened sense of alertness to try to figure out what our loved ones dying process is. This lack of precision, combined with the fact that terminal illnesses are full of really good days and really bad days, is part of our grieving process.
Because we don’t know how long our loved one has left to live, we experience the grief of anticipating their loss. This kind of grief can be very difficult to manage because we don’t know how long we’ll experience this kind of grief before we transition into the grief that comes after our loved one has died.
This kind of grief has been named “the long goodbye.” It is different from the more well-known stages of grief that are associated with the death of our loved ones.
The first stage of the long goodbye, which is also known as “the new grief,” as described by Barbara Okun and Joseph Nowinski in Saying Goodbye: How Families Can Find Renewal Through Loss, is a crisis.
In the crisis stage, the whole family’s rhythm gets disrupted when a terminal illness diagnosis is made. Family members may experience many emotions, including feeling guilt, sadness, resentment, anxiety, and anger. However, these emotions get rapidly suppressed as the next stage, unity, emerges.
In unity, the family rallies around their terminally-ill loved one. Everyone consciously or subconsciously puts their terminally-ill loved one’s needs first, in recognition that their own needs are secondary.
At this point, the whole family is on the same page and is willing to help meet their loved one’s needs. Every family member will pitch in to take care of medical needs, legal needs, and assistive services needs.
However, the unity stage is usually relatively short, especially in terminal illnesses that last for many months or several years. There will be times when the terminally-ill loved one rebound or feels relatively good. This is when the next stage, upheaval, begins.
For most families, it’s not too hard to be patient with each other and present a unified front for short periods of time, but when the uncertain prospect of death hovers over every aspect of life for a long time, patience frays and unity wavers. This stage is known as upheaval.
However, with every terminal illness, the undeniable end comes into view. This brings the stage of resolution for the family where everyone acknowledges that their loved one is dying.
In this stage, end-of-life care becomes the focal point. Once again, hopefully, the family bonds together, putting differences, issues, hurts, jealousies, and resentments behind them, to support their loved one and each other.
The final stage occurs after the death of the terminally-ill loved one. It is called renewal, and it defines how each family member copes with the loss and how they adapt to their new roles in relationship to each other.