Receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness
I know how devastating this can be. There is a temptation to ignore it, feeling it can’t possibly be right, but this is not helpful in the long term. How people cope with such news is a matter for them. Often a patient will take the news with a certain resignation, while their nearest and dearest (I know, I have been one of these) can’t accept it.
For those like me, it is important to put your own feelings aside and to concentrate on the other person. Find out how they feel about the diagnosis. What is their preferred method of dealing with it?
Richard decided to do what the medical profession suggested (and to a lesser extent what was suggested by me) and then to forget about it. He ignored the many little frustrations that living with prostate cancer can bring and concentrated on doing those things he excelled at and that were of service to others. In this way, he was able to relax, knowing that his life still had meaning. He was living with the disease, not allowing the disease to take over his life.
As I have said, everyone is different in the way they cope in such circumstances. It can be very useful to have some kind of counselling. For those suffering from cancer, the MacMillian nurses are very helpful here, www.macmillan.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do while the Marie Curie Organisation provides counselling for anyone suffering from a terminal illness www.mariecurie.org.uk
Hospices too, provide all sorts of services to anyone suffering from a terminal illness and to their carers. These include many kinds of complementary medicine (massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, counselling etc) as well as physiotherapy and occupational therapy. www.nhs.uk/conditions/end-of-life-care/hospice-care/
Naturally there is a lot of fear around a diagnosis of terminal illness, particularly as death has become very much the preserve of the medical profession in the last fifty years. There is a movement now to bring it back into the community.
Preparing for your death and funeral
Dying Matters, (www.dyingmatters.org) set up in 2008 by the National Council for Pallitive Care, is a coalition of individual and organisational members across England and Wales, which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make plans for the end of life.
As Jane Duncan Rogers of Before I go Solutions (www.beforeigosolutions.com) says:
If you want to give yourself the best opportunity for a good death, then preparing in advance is going to increase the likelihood of that! Yes, it means addressing the elephant in the room, but by doing this, and answering the questions that we highlight here at Before I Go Solutions, not only will you discover relief and peace of mind, but you will be giving your family one of the greatest gifts you can.
The death of Jane’s husband was the catalyst for her wanting to do more to help people have peace of mind before they die. Visit Jane’s website for details and a workbook on her way of creating an End Of Life Plan. beforeigosolutions.com/the-big-method. Making a plan really does help to bring peace of mind, no matter your age.
Also research funerals. Times are changing! There is much more choice out there as the number of independent funeral firms is growing. So is the movement for natural death. The Natural Death Centre (www.naturaldeath.org) provides a list of funeral Directors who have all agreed to:
- be flexible with the public and provide the service they request.
- state clearly what their services entail, including a clear breakdown of costs for each part.
- provide a very basic disposal service if requested.
- provide information regarding all disposal options to all clients.
- assist families who only want a part service, and not to make this difficult by offering ‘packages only’.
- inform customers that they can send feedback about the services provided to The Natural Death Centre.
- explain that embalming is optional — and also explain what embalming entails.
- inform families that they may like to help with some aspects such as washing and dressing the person who has died, or carrying the coffin.
- state clearly if they are a member of a larger ‘group’.
- inform families whether the person who has died is being kept at another facility.
- provide families with options for other types of celebrant beyond simply a minister or a humanist.
- meet and make arrangements at the family home at no extra charge.
For Richard’s funeral we chose www.hollysfunerals.co.uk. Holly was superb, kind, caring and thoughtful. She helped every step of the way, including with video bereavement counselling at a time when neither our daughters nor I felt able to sustain a face-to-face meeting.
Similarly, think about choosing a celebrant who will follow all your wishes while providing support and help should you wish to write your own ceremony. There are several places where information about celebrants is available but here is one: www.thecelebrantdirectory.com. I was lucky to know Gabriella Aluna (www.alunablessings.com) She provided me with help, support and kindness way beyond my expectations and helped to make his funeral ceremony an amazingly uplifting experience of enduring love as well as sadness.
(a) inform yourself of all the possibilities and services available to you or someone close to you. Doing this when shocked and/or in pain is much more difficult.
(b) Talk to your family, friends and medical advisors about your wishes and make them plain and legally enforceable.