What to Do If a Loved One Receives a Terminal Diagnosis

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Finding out that someone close has a terminal illness is a devastating experience. There’s a surreal, nightmarish feel to it, and you’re left in a state of disbelief. It’s enough for anyone to deal with, and the only thing that could possibly make it worse is having to deal with the cold, harsh reality of end-of-life arrangements. It’s a sobering thought, but it’s an excellent reason to do some advance work and make as many of these arrangements as possible ahead of time. Here are a few important areas that can be taken care of ahead of time.

A Soothing Space

It’s important that an individual with a terminal illness be made as comfortable as possible, with plenty of familiar and comforting objects and photos close by. If your loved one has a much-loved pet, make space near the bed, and bring their food and water dish in as well. Create a calming environment; play their favorite music and include scented candles or incense — anything that helps them relax and rest easy.

Medical/Legal Dispositions

Don’t assume that a loved one has a living will or has made power of attorney arrangements. It’s important to check, as these legal arrangements are necessary to execute your loved one’s wishes concerning final medical dispositions and determining who will act on their behalf in executing their final wishes. It’s through these means that individuals indicate whether they want to include a “Do Not Resuscitate” order and other similar issues.

Funeral Arrangements

Making funeral arrangements may be the most emotionally jarring responsibility for a bereaved individual. It includes what kind of service to have, who will speak, whether it’ll be at a church or the funeral home, what kind of music to play, and which biblical passages should be included. It’s also important to ensure that final dispositions have been made according to your loved one’s wishes concerning their remains. If they’re being cremated, you’ll need to decide where their cremains will be placed; if they’re being buried, you may need to decide where they’ll be interred if that decision hasn’t already been made, and possibly arrange for a headstone or marker. You may also want to display photos or play a video during visitations.


Most people have some means of letting family and friends know when someone has died. This is a task that can easily be prepared for ahead of time by making a list of individuals to be notified, along with their contact information (phone number and email address). Determine whether one person will handle this difficult task, or if multiple individuals will help.

Coordinate the Obituary

When someone passes away, it’s important to prepare an obituary as soon as possible so the local newspaper can publish it in a timely manner. You probably have a lot of the information you need; if not, collect dates, names, and important events about the individual’s life. This might include information about children and grandchildren, where they went to college, years spent in the military, notable achievements and awards, and more. (Be careful to make sure names are spelled correctly.) Also, select a photograph to be published along with the obituary.

When an individual is diagnosed with a terminal illness, there are often loose ends to tie up, which could mean anything from finalizing interment arrangements to notifying loved ones when an individual has passed. It’s an act of love and a sign of remarkable personal strength.

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Latest update: May 8, 2019
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