Orlando Grief Counselor, May Angelastro, MA provides 5 tips for dealing with a terminally ill relative or friend.

On Saturday, 29 year old Brittany Maynard used Oregon’s Death with Dignity law to end her life. Brittany was diagnosed with an advanced brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme in January. After a series of procedures and prognosis, the young woman was faced with one of the worse life decisions a person could ever endure. Dealing with a terminal illness is not only an individual process but also a family matter. Undergoing such process is very complex and requires dealing with extended grieving process.

Dealing with a terminally ill relative means learning how to cope while watching our loved one slowly die in front of us, understanding the complexities of  deterioration, and supporting our loved one live while dying. Barbara Okun, Phd and Joseph Nowinski Phd, proposed a five stage model for family grief. The model helps family process the extended grief involved with a terminal illness diagnosis. It is very important to understand that each family grieves differently and these stages will not happen in any specific order.

5 Grief Tips for Dealing with a Terminally ill Relative

  1. Crisis: Diagnosis of a terminal illness can create anxiety and distress in the family. This is originated from the shock and despair in the news along with a range of emotions. Be aware that alienation from the terminally ill relative may occur, which will then produce feelings of guilt, resentment and anger.
  2. Unity: During this stage the family tend to unite and work together as a team for the terminally ill relative. The needs for the terminally ill becomes the most important priority. This is the time where any family disputes or indifference gets put aside. Something to keep in mind is the role every family member play during the process.
  3. Upheaval: Emotional regulation becomes the main issue during this stage. In this stage emotions cannot stay suppressed and lack of communication or expression of feelings may cause the family to fall apart. It is important to maintain healthy communication and be able to express your feelings in healthy ways. Resentment, guilt and anger are the common emotions dealt with during this stage.
  4. Resolution: As the person deteriorates, family members begin to talk about memories. This is the time where old rivalry, family feuds or disputes could get resolved. However, when anxiety is present it is possible for all resentments and feuds to be avoided by some people. This is the best time to amend relationships and restore family bonds.
  5. Renewal: This stage begins during the funeral process of the terminally ill relative. It is where the family celebrate the life of their loved ones and the marking of their loss. There will be an array of mixed emotions with an emphasis on sadness and relief. It could be the time for renewed relationships and new family traditions can be expected.


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Author: Mayeling Angelastro, MA is an Orlando Winter Park Bilingual Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern providing help to couples, families, couples, children and teenagers with offices in Winter Park and East Orlando.  (407) 248-0030