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Coping with your loved one’s life-limiting illness

Diagnosis of a life-limiting illness

Taking care of and being alongside a loved one who is battling a life-limiting illness is never easy. Any disease is a challenge but it’s much more so when their physician makes it clear that they are unlikely to ever recover. When hearing this difficult diagnosis, it’s easy to lose yourself to grief. However, while your loved one is alive, there’s a lot you can do to help them, make them feel more comfortable, and try and prepare them as best as possible.

Talk to the doctor about what to expect

The way that a terminal condition progresses is going to change from individual to individual, as well from condition to condition. As such, it’s important to work with the doctor so you have some idea of how their condition is going to progress with time.

Ask the medical professional what you can do to provide your spouse, sibling, friend, or another person with the comfort or relief to help them while going through what lies ahead. Make sure that you have contact details for their health care team on hand at all times too. That way, should you need their assistance, you’re able to directly get in touch with those who are in the best position to give care to your loved one.

Working through their choices with them

There are likely to be some health care decisions that you and your loved one have to make, even right up until the end. That might include whether or not to use certain forms of medication or therapy to ease their pain.

It can also include whether or not treatment of the disease itself should go on or be discontinued. If they rely on life-supporting medical equipment, such as a dialysis machine or ventilator, they might have to make the decision of when to remove the apparatus.

A related conversation is whether or not to have a do-not-resuscitate order in place. You can help them make these decisions and, if they would rather not be involved, you can use sites like to learn more about power of attorney. That allows you to make those decisions on their behalf when they are not able, while still making sure to follow their wishes.

Planning their estate

Even if your loved one does not require you to take power of attorney to be able to make decisions for them, it’s still wise to help them with some legal assistance. For instance, you can help them set an advance directive so they can make all their health care decisions later so that, even if they are incapacitated later, their health care team still has their instructions to follow. You may also want to work with an estate planner like to make sure that they can complete or update their will to make sure their assets are used precisely how they wish.

A life-limiting illness: Helping meet their needs

Another choice that you might have to make for your partner or another loved one is who is going to care for them and take care of their needs as time goes on. If they have not already lost parts of their independence and ability to do things by themselves, it is likely that that will come at some point.

Hospice care, provided by teams like, is all about providing practical, emotional, and even spiritual support to people who face a life-limiting illness. You can take on those care duties yourself, of course, but a professional hand to help can allow you to focus on other duties and ways to help them.

The primary purpose of hospice care is to offer the dignity and comfort that you no doubt want for your loved one towards the end of their life. So it’s important to find the right service for them.

Think about wishes and things to do

Aside from all of the practicalities of preparing for the future with your loved one, it’s important to make sure that they can still live for the things that they want to some degree. As such, it can be a great idea to sit down and create a wishlist of things they would like to do or see before the end.

Some of these activities might be impossible, depending on their condition. But, seeing certain family members, celebrating a certain occasion, or even having a certain meal one more time can greatly improve their mood.

Checking these things off the wishlist can be a great mood booster. Plus, with technology, they can remotely visit places and meet people if they can’t travel, too.

Handling anticipatory grief about their life-limiting condition

Learning that a loved one is going to pass away relatively soon is going to be a shock and a hard fact for anyone to deal with. You may begin to feel the loss and go through the stages of grief while they are still alive and with you.

This is known as anticipatory grief, as explained at It is not an uncommon reaction, especially if you are witness to them losing independence and weakening over time.

With this grief can come feelings of sadness, anger, denial, and anxiety, which can all be steps to acceptance. It’s important to have your own sympathetic ears to talk to, whether it’s friends and family, support groups for people in your position, a counselor, or someone else who can help you work through various emotions.

Keep them involved in the conversation

One of the big and easiest mistakes to make when you’re looking at end-of-life care options and how to make your loved one more comfortable is not getting their opinion on the available options. You might want to remove the burden of choosing from them entirely and, indeed, some may not be as interested in the details as the other things they have to think about.

But, it’s important to have those crucial conversations with them, especially if they affect how they are going to be living life coming up to the end. Take the time to make sure that you’re following their wishes and getting their input.

Talk with your family members

The stress of coping with the impending loss of a loved one can affect families in strange ways. There are likely to be some disagreements over decisions regarding care, health choices, living arrangements, and estate matters.

The heightened emotions of the moment can make people’s disagreements even more combative. It can help to have the chosen path explained with all of its advantages by the professional who helped you and your loved one make the choice, be it the doctor, hospice care provider, lawyer, or otherwise.

Hearing a qualified opinion on the matter, rather than your personal judgment, can help them see the sense in the decision. Also, try to keep close family members in the loop as much as possible so it doesn’t feel like they are being left out.

Be there for them through the life-limiting illness

The emotional comfort that you can provide for a loved one as they face the end of their life might be the most important part of all. This can include keeping them company and talking to them about the positives in their lives.

It also involves allowing them to express their fears about death or anything that might follow. Take the time to assure them that you are going to help take care of the people and problems left behind, but don’t burden them with your worries, as you can share them with someone else.

It is a delicate balance. Of course, if they wish for privacy, it’s important to honor that, too.

When it comes to helping a loved one who is facing a life-limiting illness, it can feel difficult at times to see the importance of helping them in the now. Following the suggestions above can be helpful during the times when you feel unsure as to what to do next for them.

6 thoughts on “Coping with your loved one’s life-limiting illness”

  1. Such an important yet heartbreaking one. I think the emotional aspects are so important, but so too are the legal ones that are mentioned here. Getting everything in order and making sure their wishes are met can’t be easy. xx

  2. Your article touches on so many aspects of helping loved ones through difficult times when dealing with a terminal diagnosis. Whether with family or friends, the longer we live, the more likely it is that we will be dealing with these circumstances.

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