A terminal illness is scary enough, but then there’s the heartache of watching your parents, children, spouse, and other family and friends freak out when you tell them you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. This may even be the worst part of having a terminal illness; breaking the news to parents or children, and then figuring out how to respond as your parents or kids or spouse show devastation. I don’t have a terminal illness, but I occasionally imagine what I’d say to my parents if I did have some terminal disease.
If your spouse, or a parent or child is an atheist or agnostic, my suggestions won’t help. But if your parents or other family believe in an afterlife, be they a Christian, Jew or Muslim, my suggestions just might help ease their crushing grief upon learning you are stricken with a terminal condition.
So the first thing is to give your family or friends time to react to news of the terminal illness. Don’t jump in right away trying to reassure them. Let the news get absorbed first, let the shock blow over, and answer any medical questions about the terminal illness.
After you can detect that your parents, spouse or children (older ones, of course) are worn out from asking medical questions or other immediate questions and comments, and that they seem to be ready to do more listening than reacting (and this may be days after you tell them of the terminal disease), you can start off by saying something like:
“You know, we’re ALL going to die some day. I was planning on meeting the Creator 50 years from now, but instead, it’s going to be one or two years from now. Is that such a bad thing? You may have to wait 30 years before meeting God. I’m going meet him a lot sooner. That’s the way I’m looking at all of this. A terminal illness means meeting the Creator much sooner than I had planned.”
“I’m finally going to find out how life on earth began. Did we evolve from lower life forms? Or was the universe really created in seven days? Was there a big bang? And where does the universe expand out to? I’m going to find all of that out. I will know the mysteries of the universe.”
“I might even be able to look into the future. I will meet my great-great-great grandkids. I will meet my grandfather — I’ve never met him before. I will meet my great-great grandparents. I’ll be reunited with Muffin and Blackie.”
“I’ll know how the Great Pyramids were built, and how Stonehenge was put up. I’ll know why the dinosaurs became extinct. And I’ll know if we really were visited by extraterrestrials in the distant past. I’ll learn of every planet in the universe that’s populated by intelligent life.”
You get the picture. There will come a point in time where such comments will finally be appropriate. You just have to carefully monitor the situation and know when it’s time to start talking like this. We are all terminal. The first person you tell about your terminal illness could be dead a week later after being in a car wreck.