Difficult Decisions: What to Do After a Terminal Diagnosis

Categories: Caregiving Moments

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness changes everything in an instant. Priorities immediately shift, questions about insurance and your estate arise, and final dispositions must be made for end-of-life care and funeral arrangements. If you’re too ill to take on these tasks yourself, it’ll be necessary to call on a spouse, friend, or family member to help you pull it all together and get everything resolved as soon as possible. Your best asset at a time like this is knowledge. It may feel unbearable and impossible right now, but there are ways to get through it. Here are a few tips to help you navigate what is always a very difficult and bewildering time.

Ask your doctor

Get as much information as possible from your physician concerning the nature of your condition and how much you can expect to be able to do during treatment. Knowing what physical and/or mental changes to expect as your illness progresses can help you prepare. It may also give you a better idea of how much assistance you will need both in the short- and long-term.


Preparing for the end of one’s life is an overwhelming task, even with loved ones around willing to help and support you to make it easier. You are likely conflicted with how to spend your time—and understandably so. There’s a high possibility you may decide that your best course of action is to spend as much time as you can around family. Once you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, though, it’s incredibly important that you take the time to get your arrangements in order—keeping in mind that addressing your end-of-life wants and needs will help ease the burden on your loved ones. Both you and your family will have peace of mind knowing that your final wishes will be carried out according to your instructions.

Have the conversation

After a terminal diagnosis, there’s a natural tendency to avoid the topic, to act as though it’s something that will happen in the distant future rather than facing the reality of the situation head-on. But denial can be a dangerous thing. Set aside time to talk with your loved ones about how you’re feeling and what you need help with, and to reassure family and friends that you’re doing as well as can be expected.

If you’ve been putting off having a discussion with them, you’re not alone. A national survey found that, although 90 percent of people agree it’s important to talk with family and friends about end-of-life care, only 27 percent actually have. However, remember that having the conversation can be an important healing act for loved ones who may be struggling with coming to terms with your diagnosis.

Making it official

If you have a will, the disposition of your estate is on record. You may also need to have an advance health care directive and living will written so that your wishes concerning end-of-life care are also on record. If you haven’t already decided, determine whether you want to be an organ or tissue donor. If you’re overwhelmed with the task of writing your living will, start by reading through this guide provided by Nolo.

Funeral service

No one enjoys planning their own funeral, but it’s an important task you don’t want to leave to bereaved family members who need the time to heal emotionally. You can pre-plan a funeral and memorial service and either make payment arrangements up front or investigate different payment options if time allows. At the least, write down for family members whether you want to be buried or cremated, have a service at church or in a funeral home, and any other specific arrangements that might be overlooked. For instance, some people want music played or wish for a specific prayer or psalm to be read.

Do plenty of research and don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand concerning your treatment options, end-of-life care, legal dispositions, and funeral arrangements. The sooner you can get everything organized, the sooner you can enjoy the rest of the time you have left with your loved ones, and rest easy knowing they are provided for.

–by June D., author of The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

advance directives, caregiver, caregiving, end-of-life care, funeral, terminal diagnosis
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