When Illness Prevails, Time Can Be a Gift


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
All of us will experience the death of a loved one at some point in our lives. Perhaps it will be the expected death of an elderly, ailing relative or maybe it will be the sudden and unexpected demise of a young motorcyclist.  Another more common scenario is that the one you love becomes seriously ill and although you know he or she is dying, when it happens it comes as a great shock. You are overwhelmed by powerful emotions and it feels like a sudden death.

In sudden or traumatic death, the event is unexpected and abrupt. Life is turned upside down. The person you loved was taken away without any warning. Nothing makes sense. And, there was no time to do any of the end-of-life “things” that one can address when the death can be anticipated. There was no time for reconciliation, for finishing unfinished business, for saying “I love you” or “Good-bye.”

But when your loved one is seriously ill and you know that the end of his or her life is near, you can use this luxury of time as an opportunity to be together – to share thoughts, feelings and memories. During this pre-death time, as the illness advances, wonderful things can happen and while it won’t take away the pain of grief post death, it may soften it.

Here are some considerations: Communication between individuals can be difficult even when things are good, but it’s so important to figure out how to communicate during this time without hurting feelings. It is through communication that we can learn what is meaningful and important at this time. It is through communication, that one can reconcile relationships and find closure.

This can be a time to reflect on the past. Remembering and telling stories, looking at pictures and listening to familiar music can be helpful.  Good memories can be fuel for conversation and the stories produced can be passed on from generation to generation, keeping the spirit of the person alive.  Reminiscences often kindle the feelings of meaning and purpose.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no one can be truly prepared when death happens. Whether death is sudden or expected, grief hurts. If you are able to share time together as an illness progresses, it will be a gift you always cherish.  Remember, you do not have to grieve alone.

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