If you’ve been given a terminal diagnosis, you may currently be in shock. Conversely, you could be feeling “all the feels” to an overwhelming level. It is normal in the face of such news to react in many different ways. However, don’t lose hope. There is still living to be done. It may not be the type of “living” you imagined, but one thing is certain. You are still alive in this moment right now and you are still able to give meaning to the time you have left here.

Let’s look at some of the important ways to cope with your diagnosis and make the rest of your life meaningful.

Find Answers

First off, recognize that whatever illness you have been diagnosed with has likely been studied and suffered through before. Get online and join support groups or read in medical journals or medical studies about what your illness entails and how others cope with the symptoms. Others who are further along in their journey can help you find ways to accept the diagnosis and have hope while going through it. Those who are just recently diagnosed can validate your feelings by going through the same thing alongside you.

Knowing more about your illness can give you some sense of stability because you will know what to expect at doctor visits, while in the hospital, or while living through the rest of your life.

Don’t Expect Perfection

Set aside any pressure to finish every trip on your bucket list or to write a meaningful letter to each of 15 grandchildren. Don’t start a degree at your local college. Instead, start each day with a few goals, but don’t plan more than you can reasonably accomplish. Living with an illness involves setting different expectations for yourself than you had before. Getting out of the house to go grocery shopping and stopping by a friend’s house may be an exhausting experience for you. Congratulate yourself on getting out and doing something instead of beating yourself up for not accomplishing more.

Be good to yourself. It is very motivating to have goals, but if your health is failing you, your goals must be different to be achievable. Don’t push yourself to accomplish things that are not going to happen. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure and guilt. Instead, encourage yourself for each small thing you accomplish each day. If you want to sit on your back porch soaking in the sun and then watching it go down, give yourself the permission to enjoy. 

Leave the criticisms of yourself in the past. You don’t have time to waste on that now. Did you ever? Do what you can and believe that you are enough.

Consider Your Spirituality

Many find comfort in the simplicity of trusting in a God as having an ultimate plan and reason for what happens. Others focus on meditation or prayer as disciplines that invoke a sense of peace. Some people find that writing in journals or just sitting in nature can bring a spiritual comfort. 

Whatever gives your spirit peace and comfort, now is the time to seek after who God is in your life and find a measure of solace there. 

If you need guidance, look to the people in your life who seem to find peace and contentment even in the worst struggles of their lives and talk with them about their experiences. Find autobiographies of those who went through difficult times and became stronger and kinder. Or seek out a leader in the religion or spiritual practice that resonates with you. Now is the time to find your way to accept that death is part of life. Often, our spirituality is a connection with who we are and how we can cope with imminent death.

Talk with Hospice About Your Care

According to Transitions of Wake County, hospice care can be provided in all settings including individual homes, nursing homes, assisted living communities, hospitals or at a hospice facility. Hospice care is for all ages and disease types as long as the individual has a prognosis of 6 months or less.  Hospice care is paid for by Medicare, Medicaid or Private Insurance and includes medical, nursing and supportive services with an emphasis on pain control, symptom management and emotional support during the last 6 months of life. 

Palliative care is appropriate for individuals with advanced illness, can be provided concurrently with curative treatments and does not require a terminal prognosis.  Palliative care offers assistance by helping to relieve symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety or fatigue, as well as by providing supportive services for family or caregiver. (1)

Say What Needs to Be Said

There may be those in your family or friends who need to speak about matters of the heart before you leave this world. These are moments that you can go ahead and embrace as part of the meaningful journey you are on at the moment.  The song by John Mayer “SAY” expresses this well, 

Say what you need to say

Have no fear for givin’ in

Have no fear for givin’ over

You better know that in the end

It’s better to say too much

Than to never say what you need to say again

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Even if your hands are shakin’

And your faith is broken

Even as the eyes are closin’

Do it with a heart wide open

A wide heart

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Now is not the time to hold back on how you feel. Remember that love is stronger than hate and do what you can to mend the hearts, including your own.

Lean on Others

Let your family and friends know what is going on. Many who keep their illness a secret only hurt themselves and their loved one. Grieving a death is easier for the family when they can have time to process their feelings a bit before you go. This also gives them a chance to make things right that may be bothering them or to make sure you know how they feel. We are all made differently, but not giving your family this chance to say goodbye can be painful for the rest of their lives. 

In letting others know about your illness, you are also letting others know that you need a support network now more than ever. It is ok to lean on others during this time. The people who love you will want to be a part of supporting your journey healthwise and emotionally as you face the end of this life on earth.

Think about Your Plans

Make sure that you have written a will and have the proper advance directives in place for when or if you become incompetent or incapacitated. Also be sure that the beneficiaries listed on any retirement accounts match the beneficiaries listed in your will. If the account are different than your will, the beneficiary designation on the account will overrule your will and can cause family conflict if the beneficiary won’t do as your will states. 

The same kind of problem can be found in any bank accounts or homes you own jointly with right-of-survivorship. These accounts and properties are inherited automatically by the other owner upon your death. That owner does not have to honor your will if it is different. Speak with an attorney and make sure your affairs are in order.

Preplan your Funeral

Go ahead and check out a preplanning page at a funeral home website. There are many things you can go ahead and do to help your family best honor your wishes. Renaissance Funeral Home offers pre-planning that includes either cremation, traditional burial, or green burial.

Renaissance also honors funeral traditions such as Hindu, Buddhist, or Catholic funerals. A pre-plan involves planning music, flowers, types of services and where they will be, who will speak, etc. You can even pre-pay for exactly what you have in mind. Check out the offerings at Renaissance and start your preplan today HERE.

Planning your funeral or memorial is another way to talk with your family and spend meaningful time with them discussing your lives together, your dreams, visions, and plans for their future. 

Seek Out Professionals

Funeral directors, grief counselors, hospice care workers, pastors or clergy, and others spend a lifetime studying death and grief and working with those affected by death. There are many who want to help make your journey toward the end of this life less stressful and more calm and meaningful for yourself and others. Many focus on releasing emotional pain or physical pain through talking about your fears or prayer. Others may focus on medicating to find relief. 

There is no right way to take the last bit of your life journey, but there are ways to make the last lap of your journey meaningful to you and your loved ones. Reach out to professionals for ways to make your end journey of life not only tolerable, but also full of love and peace.


  1. http://www.wakecrc.org/Hospice-of-Wake-County