Coping with Death and Dying

Despite doing everything possible to fight the cancer, your loved one may reach a point when the cancer cannot be cured. It is absolutely devastating to learn that the end of life is approaching for someone you love. If the disease reaches this point, you, your loved one and the entire family will have to cope with one of the most difficult emotional situations you may have encountered in your life so far.

End-of-life decisions

Both you and your loved one are at a very emotional time, but decisions need to be made based on his or her best interests. Your loved one will be making decisions such as:

  • What type of medical care does he or she want at the end of life?
  • Where and how does he or she want to receive care at the end of life?

Your loved one may choose to receive hospice care, which can be provided at home or in a health care facility. The goal of hospice care is to ease passing by giving pain medications and providing comfort. Other decisions regarding medical care will need to be written down, including assigning a medical power of attorney to make these decisions when your loved one is too ill to make them.


Decisions made at this time are difficult but can be revisited from time to time. Treatment options and opinions can change as treatment goes on. For instance, some who decide they would like every possible means used to keep them alive may have a change of heart if quality of life is getting worse. Some who would like to be at home for their final days may decide it is more difficult for their family and opt for in-house hospice care instead. Try to understand and respect the decisions the person with cancer makes. He or she is filled with difficult emotions as well and is doing the best he or she can. If your loved one chooses to include you in the decision-making process, try to keep your thoughts on what is best for the person who is facing the end of life.

Remember, at this time of your loved one’s life, your love and support are very important. It may be very difficult in the coming days, but you are doing this for someone else, and support you show now is very much appreciated.

Coping with the loss of a loved one

You will probably feel extremely sad, scared and possibly angry about losing your loved one. It is normal to feel like the situation isn’t fair and that no one understands what you’re going through. However, you are not alone. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed and cannot handle what is happening by yourself. Reach out to trusted adults in your life and rely on friends for support. Talk to your loved one about all the good memories you will have of your time with him or her. Spend time with your loved one as much as you are able and build memories to last a lifetime. Finally, ask to see a therapist or counselor if you feel you might need to speak to a professional to help you cope.

Know that other people often don’t know what to say or do and feel helpless to comfort you and your family at this time, but most do care and genuinely want to help. Give them suggestions about how they can assist your family, such as bringing meals to your house, or where they can donate to honor your loved one. Others are grieving as well, and letting them help you may help them to feel a little better too.

It will be extremely difficult to cope with your loss for quite some time. Over time, however, you will feel better. It may be difficult to believe that, but life continues. You will find a new normal and adapt. No one expects you to recover immediately, and others will understand if you struggle. Just remember to ask for help when you need it and help other loved ones when they are in need.

You need to understand that you may hear some things that have probably crossed your mind. The idea of fatality—it’s an everyday thing now. You’re going to grow up a lot in a short time.David S. (son of tonsil cancer survivor)