What’s going to happen next? Grappling With the Unknowns of Illness, Death and Dying

Some things that are comforting: control, knowledge, predictability and routine.

Some things that are uncomfortable: lack of control, the unknown, unpredictability and chaos.

When faced with a serious illness, having the answer to one simple question would make everything immeasurably easier:

“What’s going to happen next?”

You will find that despite hundreds or even thousands of Google searches and visits to the doctor, a definitive map of the future remains elusive (as does your peace of mind).

The uncomfortable truth is that there is no way to know exactly how an illness will take its course. Each person is different, and each illness is unique.

In a time of stress, sadness and worry, it’s incredibly difficult to accept that there’s no way to know what or when things will change.
So if control and a “roadmap” of the future aren’t options, what can you do to find your equilibrium?

  1. Educate yourself.

Although outcomes and timelines vary widely from patient to patient, learning about your or your loved one’s illness can give you some idea of what to expect. However, be sure that  your information is reliable. Talk to your doctor and nurses directly, as they are well-versed in not only the physiological aspects of the illness but also your specific case. Don’t expect them to tell you what will happen, but rather, what can or may happen.

  1. Live in the moment.

Rather than borrowing trouble and obsessing about how much time is left, you may find it comforting to shift your thoughts to the present. Quality of time is something over which you do have some control. Small, simple moments of love and togetherness are precious.

  1. Focus on Comfort.

A bowl of soup, a warm blanket, the sharing of memories, the smell of flowers, laughter and freedom from pain are some of the simple joys that life has to offer. Every small moment of comfort and pleasure is a gift, and actively cultivating those moments can improve quality of life immeasurably for you or your loved one.

  1. Accept the unknowns.

This is much easier said than done, but the most freeing way to live with illness is to accept that there really is no way of predicting what will happen. Be optimistic about what the future may hold, but embrace your control to create moments in the present. The less worry you borrow, the more room you make for happiness and love in your life.

  1. Speak with a professional.

Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG) has doctors, nurses, chaplains and social workers who are well-versed in navigating patient and family care. If you are feeling overwhelmed, confused or uncertain about your or your loved one’s illness, call HPCG at 336.621.2500 to speak with someone who can help.