The Hardest Conversation



The Hardest Conversation: Helping a Loved One Cope with a Terminal Condition


Today's guest blog is by Lucille Rosetti, who is about to publish a book, The Hardest Conversation: Helping a Loved One Cope with a Terminal Condition. In her counsel she suggests green burial as a way of comforting the grieving, and the immanently deceased with the idea of life passing back into nature. 


Time stands still when you get the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The brain has difficulty accepting such an emotionally jolting piece of news. It’s a human tendency to pray for a miracle cure or deny the truth. 

Once the full weight of the situation sinks in, there are other difficulties to confront. You may experience some initial awkwardness interacting with your loved one and a reluctance to address the situation directly. It’s important, however, to deal with the situation with honesty and candor for everyone’s good. There may be final dispositions to make, especially if no will is in effect. It’s a time for emotional sharing and loving support, but it’s also a time to make important decisions that can have repercussions for your entire family. 

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is a situation in which one copes with an expected loss before it takes place. It can be a strange, even surreal experience that leaves you feeling lost and even guilty about accepting the death of someone so close to you before it’s happened. Some people feel like they should spend the available time looking for any hope, any potential cure rather than accepting the inevitable without a struggle. Coming to terms with a loved one’s impending death helps both of you reach some kind of emotionally tenable common ground. 

Anticipatory grief feels like someone is being taken away from you a little at a time. First, their mobility and independence may be lost. If their condition involves cognitive degeneration, you may experience the loss of their personality, even their ability to recognize familiar faces. Perhaps worst of all is the loss of their future, or the loss of a future you’d always assumed the two of you would share. People often experience sorrow, depression, anxiety and denial in such a situation. It’s an agonizing situation in which it seems as though everyone’s just waiting for the end to come. 



Use the time well

You can alleviate some of that emotional suffering by making the most of the time you have left. Talk to someone who’s gone through something like this. Often, just sharing your thoughts and experiences with someone who truly understands can have a healing and liberating effect on your psyche and emotions. Do some research -- read a book about anticipatory grief and end-of-life issues. There’s a large body of literature on issues that caregivers face and how they deal with the situation. 

If possible, join a support group, which will give you a strong emotional source of support and valuable time with people who can talk you through the rough spots. You’ll learn that it’s OK to experience what you’re feeling, but that you needn’t feel guilty when it comes to accepting the inevitable. You may learn things that’ll help you better relate to your loved one and be more supportive. 

Talking about death

Perhaps the hardest thing about anticipatory grief is talking about death. Some people avoid it out of fear that they’ll undermine their loved one’s desire to keep fighting just by broaching the subject. It’s always a difficult subject, but bear in mind that people who are facing their own mortality often are looking for some kind of reassurance from a loved one. Others need someone to talk to, discussing whatever pops into their head just to fill the time. One subject that may come up is how to dispose of your loved one’s remains. 

Green Burials" are an environmental alternative to methods that involve toxic materials like embalming fluid.The idea of a person’s remains recycling back into Earth’s ecosystem, literally living again, can be of comfort. Green burial grounds often allow the planting of a tree or wildflowers over a grave. Some bury bodies in a forest where roots will eventually take up a body’s nutrients and feed them back into nature. The body is reborn into visible, palpable living beings. A Green Burial can be part of the healing process of those who remember the deceased.


Confronting the death of someone dear to you is one of the most difficult situations imaginable. Your natural inclination is to avoid the subject. However, you can be a valuable source of love and emotional support for a loved one just when they need it most. Be honest and open with your relative; be a good listener and create a soothing environment. As long as we show kindness and compassion to our loved ones throughout the process, they will be able to say goodbye with the dignity they deserve.


Courtesy of

Lucille created as a means of sharing tools to help people through the grief process. Having lost some of the people closest to her, she understands what it’s like, and how it can be an emotional roller coaster that doesn’t always seem to make sense.