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

By Linda Campanella

(Page 2 of 3)

3. Stay in the moment. Don't focus on what lies ahead. It is possible, and good, to crowd out thoughts about dying by injecting acts of living. You can keep thoughts of what's to come at bay by being intentional about savoring every aspect of what you are experiencing while you are experiencing it. And shouldn't every one of us do this every day anyway, whether we know our days are numbered or not? 

4. Don't expect miracles, but don't stop believing in what is possible. While the disease will eventually render certain things impossible, focus on all that is still possible. Even though we were subconsciously or privately aware that we might be celebrating certain holidays or milestones together for the last time, we chose to look forward to what came next. And rather than focusing on last times, we opted to find things we could do or enjoy for the first time. For example: a first mother-daughter side-by-side mani-pedi. Unforgettably wonderful!

5. Don't stop planning. My mother and I did not use a calendar to cross off, with relief, days that had been survived. Rather, we used the calendar to record, with anticipation, plans that were being made—appointments, outings, get-togethers, trips—for next week, next month, and even next summer.

6. Have fun. Make fun. Be happy! It is OK to laugh while hearts are breaking; in fact, it's critical. Laughter is good medicine. So laugh—with abandon. Take pictures. Lots of them. We filled two photo albums. Who would ever have imagined how much my mother would do, where she would go, whom she would meet, and how many people she would touch after her diagnosis? Who could ever believe how happy she was that last year? The photos provide evidence...and also many wonderful reminders of life, love, and laughter.

7. Help your parent or loved one retain things that matter most to someone facing death: routines, relationships, a sense of self, and, above all, a sense of dignity. Keeping a calendar, carrying a pocketbook, getting dressed, getting together with friends, shopping for holiday gifts, making the grocery list—little routines like these inject a semblance of normalcy into an existence that feels anything but normal or routine, especially as disease takes its toll. And remember that we feel good when we look good. My mother was never without lipstick or earrings on the days I was with her; we kept our nails polished and we shopped for new clothes for the coming season. Why not?!

8. Gently nudge, but don't push. There will be days, and there will come a point, when certain things just aren't possible or when your parent simply won't feel physically (or mentally) up for what you think she might want to do and enjoy. Although I was intent on helping her find joy in every day, I did not want my mother to be afraid to say "I can't" or "I don't want to." I didn't want her ever to feel as though she was disappointing me or anyone in the family if she succumbed to her fatigue or anything else she struggled to overcome.


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