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A Terminal Diagnosis Does Not Terminate Living
Tips for Injecting Living into Dying

By Linda Campanella

(Page 1 of 3)

When my father began our phone conversation with the words, "Are you sitting down?" I knew the news to follow would not be good; but I never in my wildest dreams imagined he would tell me my 73-year-old mother was terminally ill with metastatic lung cancer. I had not even begun to prepare myself for the day I would lose either one of my parents. A lucky gene pool had caused me to believe confidently that both would live well into their nineties. No such luck.

Every day a daughter or son somewhere, or a sister or brother or parent, gets the news that a cherished loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The shock, accompanied by a ferocious sense of foreboding and a powerful dose of premature grieving, can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Yet we need not be consumed by the depths of despair; and for the ones we love and will lose, it is vital that we climb out of the depths as quickly as possible so they won't fall in themselves. 

Two days after getting my father's call, I suddenly had a moment of clarity and an epiphany: my mother's life was going to end sooner than we expected or wanted, but it hadn't ended yet. So I committed myself to helping my mother live, and live joyfully, until I found myself in the position of helping her die.

If you receive the dreaded call, what can you do?

How can you inject living into dying?

How can you let the sunshine break through the menacing cloud overhead?

1. First, reel yourself in from that place of anticipatory grief to which the diagnosis catapulted you. No one has died yet, so stop grieving a loss that hasn't occurred. Rather than anticipating death, we can choose to embrace and enjoy life. The story of my mother's life was still being written, and so there was no need to allow our minds to fast-forward to the story's ending. We were intent upon writing quite a few more chapters.

2. Realize that while there is nothing you can do to keep your parent or loved one from dying, there is much you can do to help him or her keep living. For us, tomorrow was a day to look forward to because of the possibilities and happiness it could bring, rather than a day to dread because it would bring us one day closer to death. Make what time remains a period filled with purpose and passion.


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