Knowing that death is coming takes an emotional toll on the dying person and their loved ones. Sometimes it is hard to talk about these things; still, these emotional issues must be addressed. Knowing these feelings are normal and expected may help you cope with what is happening. Some of the emotions include the following:
Fear and Anxiety
People may say that they are afraid to die, but it can help to pinpoint what part of the dying process or death they are afraid of. Some of the more common reasons that people fear death include:
- afraid of dying alone
- fear of loss of control
- experiencing suffering or pain
- afraid that there will be nothing beyond earthly life
- fear that their lives had no purpose or meaning
- fear of the unknown
- fear of loss of identity
Your fears are important and need to be expressed. Sharing your feelings gives the chance to make clear any fears and helps you come up with ways to cope with and ease some of the fears.
Try to identify exactly what you fear and take action to prevent it. For example, if you are afraid of being alone, share this with your loved ones so they can plan to have someone with you.
It is perfectly normal to feel angry about your life being interrupted – it is unfair and you have a right to be upset. Unfortunately, anger often is directed at those closest to us. This occurs because we feel safest with these people and know they will probably accept our anger and forgive us for it.
Your anger might also be about the disease, the medical system, physicians, God or other people or situations. It may also be directed at yourself, perhaps for past actions.
Try to use your anger as a source of energy and courage to help you take action. You can use it as fuel to solve problems, to become assertive, or to get your needs met. You can sing at the top of your lungs, give a heartfelt speech, create a piece of art, write a letter, or tell your family some things you really want them to know. In this way, you have re-channeled your anger into something meaningful and positive.
Guilt and Regret
A person facing death might regret or feel guilty about many things. We feel regret when we think that we should have done something differently. Perhaps maybe there is something we wish we had not done at all. We may feel guilty when we do not meet our own or someone else’s expectations.
Worrying endlessly about these things will not make you feel better about them. Sometimes the best thing to do is to “let yourself off the hook” about past situations that are now out of your control. You cannot change the past, but there are things you can currently do. Apologize for the things you regret and ask for forgiveness. Be willing to forgive others and yourself. Fix what can be fixed and try to let go of the things that cannot be changed.
It is natural to feel intense grief when facing one’s end of life. Many physical and emotional losses come before the loss of life itself. You are grieving the loss of the life you had planned, hoped for and expected. You may have lost many things already, such as the strength to walk or get around as you used to, interest in eating previously enjoyed food, or the ability to get together with friends.
The people you love are grieving too. You may feel distanced from friends who cannot handle the fact you are going to die soon. Try to talk to your loved ones about the grief and loss you are all going through.
Loss of Meaning
Most people want to feel their life had purpose or there was some reason for their being born. It is helpful to review your life and figure out what your purpose in life has been. You might ask:
- What was your special contribution to the world?
- What have you done to make your community or world a better place?
- How would you like the world or your children, family and friends to remember you?
- What were the things that you thought were really important?
The answers do not have to be something huge or earth-shattering – look for what has been important to you and those around you. By sharing your thoughts, experiences and wisdom with others can be a gift that your friends and family can cherish for years.
Talking with someone about any of these feelings – a partner, a dear friend, a spiritual advisor, someone you trust – can help you process the feelings so that they no longer weigh you down. Please visit our Palliative Support page or contact us at 250-752-6227 to learn how we can help you.