- Denial (this isn't happening to me!..or him/her/you)
- Anger (why is this happening to me?...or him/her/you)
- Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
- Depression (I don't care anymore)
- Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)
It becomes complex within the family unit or within a circle of close friends, as individuals will process through these stages at different rates of speed.
The reason for this post is because, in watching "Today" this morning, the topic of how to talk to people who have a terminal illness was being addressed. Several "patients" were interviewed, and shared their own needs relating to peoples attention and love. It reminded me of how many people I know that are very uncomfortable with the death and grief process. Perhaps they are afraid of saying too much...or not saying enough. Perhaps they fear their own emotions; or even feel they will become a burden to the one who is sick/dying; some are so deep in their own grief that they simply isolate themselves from the loved one in order to deal with their own stuff.
Grief is not something anyone looks forward to; I doubt many people claim they are actually "comfortable" with the grief process. However, there are those who have experienced grief enough times to understand the necessity of it and the blessed experience it can be. Let me offer an example:
A couple of years ago, my dear friend, Melissa, was diagnosed with lung cancer that had already metastasized to her liver, bone and brain. All of this from a persistent cough that was initially diagnosed as "allergies", and treated as such. In her early 40's, married and with a son, Melissa was stunned, as were those of us close to her! It took Melissa and her family a little bit to gather information, process it, and determine which treatment option to try. Very quickly, however, Melissa became very proactive in her own treatment, spending countless hours researching the Internet, visiting different doctors (including some holistic health care providers), looking into trial studies going on, etc. Meanwhile, one close friend was having extreme difficulty knowing what to say, what not to say, when to say it, when not to speak, whether it's OK to cry in her presence, etc. She called me almost in panic, asking me what to do and how she should handle it all. After she shared her heart and fears with me, I simply encouraged her to remember that Melissa was still Melissa ~ her physical body is struggling~ but she is still Melissa! I encouraged her to not worry about it at all; rather, to take her cues from Melissa. I suggested that when they were together, if Melissa brought her illness up, to listen to her, ask questions if she had any herself, to pray with her, to laugh with her or cry with her...whatever Melissa was doing, follow those cues. Likewise, I recommended that if Melissa did not mention it, that she, also, should not bring it up. I assured her she would know what, when, how, and IF the cancer needed to be a topic of discussion. Then I said something like this: "The worst thing you can do is to isolate yourself from her! She needs you around, to spend time with her, to love on her, to do life with her, and, in time, to go through death with her."
Repeatedly this morning on the show one person after another re-iterated the same sentiment: Don't isolate them or yourself; it's better to say something and it be the wrong thing than to say nothing at all; spend time with them, as they want to be around people. Obviously, there are exceptions to this~ there truly are some people who don't want friends and family to be around, albeit close family perhaps. The illness itself, especially in advanced stages, may be difficult enough for them to deal with. It can sometimes be more of a burden than a help to have other folks around. Again, that should easily be determined by taking cues from family members and/or the person himself/herself.
Melissa went through a long, slow, horrible death. Many times I questioned the Lord, asking Him why she had to endure this, and why He would not just go ahead and take her home. He is sovereign; He had a plan and purpose in Melissa's life AND in her death. In her latter days, when different ones of us went over to the house, we would lie in bed with her, tell her what all was going on in our lives (this was when she was almost too weak to say anything herself); we would talk about church, or we just lay in the bed with her, listening to the praise and worship music playing quietly in the background. Of course, I would sing along with it, just because I can't hear music that I know and not sing. I held her hand from time to time; I sometimes shared a fun or funny memory with her; sometimes I even talked about her dancing before the King of Kings. Melissa was a Bible study teacher and strong believer. Though she wasn't ready to die, she was prepared to die. Talking about Heaven did not make her sad or bother her!
Melissa passed away one evening about 11:00 surrounded by many loved ones, her husband, and her son. She simply drifted away, after a year-long battle with lots of treatments, visits to M D Anderson in Texas, holistic treatments and eating, and other forms of therapy. Her body was tired; she was ready to meet her Lord. Melissa passed from this life, surrounded by people she loved and who loved her, into the arms of the Savior and the angels of Heaven rejoicing and welcoming her HOME!
In her life and in her death, Melissa taught us all much about living and about dying. Hearing folks on TV speak this morning, I was reminded again that, by and large, people need people! The "C" word is not always a death sentence; yet, even when it is, the people with this disease, Cancer, are still the people they were pre-cancer! PLEASE don't allow your discomfort isolate you from that precious one. If ever the person needs your love, your friendship, your presence, it is when they learn a frightening diagnosis and begin the process that will allow their life to be extended or as they prepare to leave this earthly life for the next life. If you are not sure that he/she is a Christian, please seek counsel on how to witness to him/her...or who could best do that. And love him/her like you've always loved, and more!
I'm grateful that, in every experience of life, there are lessons to be learned. I'm grateful that the Lord can teach us through the death process, and we can depend on Him to teach us how to lead others through the death experience!