Coping With Grief During a Loved One’s Terminal Illness

You might think terminal illness makes it easier to come to terms with a loved one’s passing. After all, you have time to make arrangements and say goodbye. But for many people, watching someone deteriorate due to terminal illness means the grief begins well before death. It’s a lot to cope with, especially when you’re trying to care for your ill loved one at the same time. How do you manage grief when the person you’re grieving is right beside you? There’s no easy answer, but there are a few things that can help during this difficult time.

Understand Your Grief Is Normal

We usually think of grief as something that happens after a person dies. However, when someone is terminally ill, grieving starts while they’re still alive. This is known as anticipatory grief, and it’s common among friends and family of the terminally ill.

In many ways, anticipatory grief looks the same as typical grief. It comes with anger, sadness, and depression, and you may find it difficult to accept your loved one’s impending death. However, there are significant ways in which anticipatory grief differs. For those close to the terminally ill, anticipatory grief comes with a great deal of anxiety. Every phone call puts you on edge as you wonder if the person on the other line is calling to say it’s the end. When that lasts for months or years during your loved one’s decline, it takes a toll on your mental well-being. You may also feel anxious or guilty for not spending more time with your loved one.

Talk About Your Feelings

It feels strange to talk about someone’s death with them. However, when someone has a terminal illness, they’re aware their time is limited. It may be beneficial to you both to talk about how you’re feeling. Discussing the emotions that each of you are experiencing can be an opportunity to resolve lingering issues and find out what your loved one needs to pass on in peace. However, broaching the conversation is difficult. Use this advice from Dying Matters to guide you.

Find Support

It can be healthy to discuss grief with your loved one, but you shouldn’t expect them to help you manage your emotions. After all, they have their own complicated thoughts and feelings to work through. Seek out a support group for friends and family of terminally ill patients. Ask your local hospital or turn to resources from Mental Health America to find a support group.

Make New Memories

Don’t let grief dominate the time before your loved one dies. Make a point to share pleasurable moments together. While your loved one’s abilities may be limited due to their illness, anything that brings joy to their final days is worth it.

Create a Comfortable Setting

If possible, adapt your loved one’s home for hospice care. That way they can experience their final days in the peace and privacy of their own home, rather than a hospital room. Unfortunately, sometimes health-care needs eliminate home hospice as an option. If your loved one must stay at the hospital, decorate their room with familiar items to create a sense of comfort. It’s no substitute for being at home, but it’s the best you can do in the circumstances. As HomeAdvisor points out, “After all, that’s what it’s all about: caring for your loved one and treating him or her as you would want to be treated. As long as we show kindness and compassion to our loved ones throughout the process, they will be able to say goodbye with the dignity they deserve.”


Saying goodbye is never easy. When death is protracted, it can feel even harder. Above all else, be kind to yourself and your loved one during this challenging time. Get plenty of sleep, don’t skip meals, and let someone else take over caregiving when you need a break. The road ahead is a difficult one, and it’s important to nurture your own well-being throughout the journey.

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