With a new terminal diagnosis, a disruption in priorities, beliefs and values often follows suit. After the initial shock quickly wears off, the terminally ill (and families) often contemplate the purpose and meaning of their lives. Some contemplate with rage why they are suffering. The dying have expressed anger towards God, they can feel abandoned. Good people suffer, and they can’t understand why God would allow the pain of it.
In hospice we have a nursing diagnosis for this; we call it spiritual distress.
What do I say to a thirty something mother dying of ovarian cancer who screams at me exhausted with why? What do I say to the somber twenty something mother of a ten month old baby boy who can’t love away his prognosis? What words could soothe the distraught daughter of a dying father who is out of reach at 3,000 miles away. There is nothing to say really. All I can do is provide a safe environment for however grief shows up, listen compassionately and bear witness to the struggle. Sometimes sitting in silence is what is most comforting. I will ask questions to offer the person more opportunity to reflect and express what they are feeling. I will assure them that what they are feeling is normal.
Most folks who are angry or frustrated need to be seen and heard. We all want to say the right combination of words to make the people we care about feel better, sometimes less is best.