Discussing a Loved One’s Terminal Diagnosis

By Amy Tracy
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

How do you open a discussion with parents about a terminal diagnosis? Begin with preparation and prayer.

“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and set limits he cannot exceed.” —Job 14:5 (NIV)

Conversations with loved ones about the end of life can be difficult and are often met with resistance. However, once the topic is broached, those conversations can be a time to talk about values, goals and life going forward. In a way, those discussions are also a gift: an opportunity to share words of love, gratitude and forgiveness. Expressions along these lines can bring about needed and life-giving peace.

But how do you open the discussion? Rob Moll, author of The Art of Dying, says, “You don’t want a conversation that’s very black and white, and strictly around dos and don’ts. You want a conversation around values, things that are important to them.”

The following questions may help you and your parent(s) discuss a terminal diagnosis and end-of-life care. To begin with, make sure the setting is private, and prepare yourself spiritually.

  • Ask your parent what she knows about her condition. “What have the doctors told you?” “What do you understand?”
  • Ask how your parents are coping with the news. Use short sentences, and listen carefully.
  • Allow for any kind of emotional response.
  • Ask questions like “What is most important to you now?” “What are your goals?”
  • Help them make a plan, or simply do the research for them.
  • Most of all, pray together and cry together, and make a commitment hang in for the long haul. You’re the child, but it may be time to care for them.*

If you discuss these topics as a family — each person stating his or her own wishes — it may help elderly parents to not feel singled out. 

This may also be an appropriate moment to suggest that your parents contact their doctor and authorize him or her to share medical information with you. Two or three minds on the case are better than one. And if the illness has the potential to progress rapidly, you might offer your service as a healthcare proxy (essentially assuming medical power of attorney) for your parent. This process involves a legal document that enables you to make decisions regarding a parent’s care if she is no longer able to make them herself.

Getting the latest information directly from your parents’ doctor is extremely valuable. Dr. John Dunlap, a physician and author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God, suggests that adult children use the discussions with their parents’ doctors to “define the prognosis, the diagnoses and treatment options — and the potential for success and how that success is defined (in terms of quality of life).” Talk about the potential side effects of various treatments, Dunlop says, along with any associated risks.

Many physicians today, including Dunlop, are concerned that using every possible medical intervention can sometimes result in a painful death or a short, debilitated life 

“There are so many [treatments] done at the end of life that just promote suffering,” Dunlop says. “And do we want to do that, especially when [the patient has] only have a fraction of a percentage of survival? We can make people pretty miserable.

“Life is precious. Life is a gift from God. But that’s only one half of the equation. The other half is that what is precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15). God’s ultimate goal is that His children be with Him for eternity. We are not fundamentally made for this world. This is only a shadow of the life to come. Our future is in heaven with the Lord.”

With a little preparation and lots of prayer, conversations with family members about the end of life can help prepare a person to leave this world in peace.

* Adapted in part from Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care

 

Navigating the emotional and spiritual landscape of end of life care can take its toll on loved ones. If you need further guidance and encouragement, Focus on the Family has a staff of licensed, professional Christian counselors available to talk with you at no charge. Just call 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).

 

Focus on the Family Store resource:

The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come by Rob Moll

Copyright © 2016 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.