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Speak Truth in Love
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Sometimes we are so busy trying to keep the bad things from happening, that we miss unbelievably rich opportunities to grow and embrace what’s happening in our lives. When we step up to having really important conversations in the face of a terminal illness, everyone wins.

What are some of the things that those considering continuing medical treatment, or ending medical treatment, need in their life: Well, I’m not sure how it is for everyone, and I haven’t experienced it myself; but there are many who have made this journey, many from whom we can learn.

When facing recurring cancer, for example, it isn’t any easier to deal with than the first time. Common emotions people express are distress, self-doubt, anger and fatigue. The distress comes from the shock of it coming back when you moved on in your daily life. People often doubt the wisdom of their past treatment and the judgments they previously made. Anger is very common and reasonable. The anger may be toward the physician for not stopping the cancer the first time or they may wonder why they put up with the treatment side effects just to have to deal with it again. Dealing with cancer again? All these emotions are normal.

Opportunities for talking about these emotions and someone to help process decisions that need to be made is a gift. We often assume a person “doesn’t want to talk about it” or that there is someone else supporting them. But unless we ask, “How can I be the best support to you right now?” we won’t know.

Purpose and Meaning

People want to know to be assured, that they have made a difference in the world and have opportunity to acknowledge that with someone. Asking, “What life events have given you the most joy?” and even “What life events or decisions have caused you regret?” open doors for important processing. Another conversation starter would be, “What has given your life its purpose and meaning?”

In coming to terms with the end of one’s life, forgiveness is often important. Asking, “How do you want to be remembered?” or “Is there someone you want to forgive? What do you want to do about that?” can open doors to healing.

Making end-of-life plans is very important. Consider these questions: Is there a final trip to visit family, friends or a special place that you want to go? What do you most value about your physical or mental well-being? Are there circumstances under which you would refuse or discontinue treatment that might prolong your life? How will others learn this? Who do you want to make your healthcare decisions for you if you are no longer able to do that?

A friend of mine once said, “We shouldn’t ask people how they are unless we are willing to stay around and pick up the pieces.” Asking the important questions, staying by and speaking the truth in love are priceless gifts we can offer.

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By Susan E. Murray. Reprinted with permission from the Lake Union Herald, October 2008. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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