Assisting the Terminally ill

“Stages” and “Phases” have been used to describe the dying process.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) made a clinical study of the stages through which those who are dying progress.

Those who are grieving follow a similar but slightly different process.

Phases have been described by several people, notably Colin Murray Parkes (1972) and Bowlby (1980).

The Stages of Dying

As with grief after losing a loved one, there are stages that we go through emotionally when we are told that we have a terminal illness.

We experience Denial,
(shock, numbness, disbelief, No, not me!)

We go through the feeling period,
(guilt, anger, sadness, resentment, Why me now?)

The Bargaining period,
(yearning, pining, searching, Yes me, but….)

We get depressed,
(grieving, Yes me….)

We eventually accept,
(resolution, Yes…)

These stages/phases may vary with different people and situations, they might not be in exactly this order but these phases/stages are typical of the emotions, feelings and thoughts a Dying person will go through.

When trying to help someone who has been told they have a terminal illness, it can be helpful to them to talk about the following circumstances surrounding the loss.

  1. Was the diagnosis of terminal illness sudden or expected?
    a/ Was there a long/short waiting period for the diagnosis,
    b/ if so, how long and how often were the persons hope of full recovery raised?
  2. If b) was the case, did the person have anyone to talk to or confide in about their hopes and fears?
  3. Have they made their peace with their God? (Sometimes the person can feel picked, why me? – what have I done to deserve this?)
  4. Is the person willing and or able to talk about the following?
    a. The prospect of their dying and death?
    b. The process of their dying and death?
    c. Their beliefs about death?
  5. Is the person able to talk intimately about their feelings to their nearest and dearest and to say thank you for the gift that person has been?
  6. Have they been able to reminisce about the good times?
  7. Have they been able to forgive those needing forgiveness?
  8. Have they made their peace with family and friends?

Questions they might ask you

a. What happens when you die?

b. Do you believe in ghosts?

c. Do you believe in life after death?

d. Will I go to hell?

e. What happens if they won’t let me into heaven?

f.  I don’t want to see my first husband/wife.

g. I don’t want to meet my old dad/mum/gran/grandad etc.

These questions should not be used as a questionnaire, the information should be gleaned gently and with considerable sensitivity.

Healthy release and healing into death usually involves the following

a. Honest and free communication with the dying person.

b. The person who is ill feeling able to speak in an unconstrained way.

c. The person who is ill able to remain silent in a Loving, safe compassionate caring

d. Breath together

e. Holding hands

f. Prayer or inspirational verse

g. Sharing the moments of being

h. Respecting each other’s role.

The most important gift we give the dying is our full presence- What stops us is our fears and beliefs- When we can learn “to keep our hearts open in hell” We can truly be with another.

Author Unknown 12th October 2008

I Asked for Strength

I asked for strength and God said, I have given you difficulties to make you strong,

I asked for wisdom and God said, I have given you problems to solve,

I asked for prosperity God said, I have given you a brain and hands to work with,

I asked God for courage and God said, I have given you danger to overcome,

I asked God for love and God said, I have given you troubled people to help,

I asked God for favours and God said, I have given you opportunities,

I received nothing I wanted but everything I needed.

Author Unknown 12th October 2008