Emotions and Spirituality
My wife has been given less than a year to live. How can I help her to prepare for death? How do I respond when she cries?

It is common for a person to feel a range of emotions when they hear their illness is progressing and death is not far away. The person may feel numb, sad, helpless, disappointed or angry, to name just a few possible reactions. You and other family members may have similar feelings. All of these reactions are normal. There really are no specific words that will take away the stress of the situation, but there is much that you can do to bring some comfort to your wife.

When you see your wife crying and obviously distressed or overwhelmed by her situation, you may feel quite helpless. This may be one of the toughest parts of loving a person who is dying. It is important to understand that there is really nothing that you can say or do to fix the situation and automatically stop the tears. When your wife cries, this is the time to show your love and support. Hug her, hold her and let her know that you are there for her.

Crying and feelings of sadness are a very normal response in the face of an advancing life-limiting illness, but if you feel her sadness is becoming severe, seek help from your wife’s health care team. With all the changes your wife will experience, she may become depressed. Talk to her health care team if she has trouble eating or sleeping, or loses interest in daily activities or the things that used to bring her pleasure. Her team can manage such symptoms of depression. Also ask your wife or her team if she has any symptoms that affect her comfort. Uncontrolled symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath can be so overwhelming that they can change a person's emotional and spiritual state. Addressing physical symptoms does not make everything better, but it may allow your wife to focus on emotional and spiritual struggles. Articles in this section describe common symptoms, including depression, that may arise as illness progresses:
Symptoms

The most important thing you can do is to be attentive to your wife and let her know you are there to support her. Listen to your wife as she expresses her thoughts and feelings; listening is an excellent way to show you are available to her. It is also helpful to say out loud that you are there to support her. Sometimes people don't say this clearly because they believe their support and intentions are obvious or understood. However, it is important to put your feelings into words. You could say something like this to reassure and comfort your wife: "I love and care about you, and do not like to see you going through this difficult situation. Please know that you are not alone and I am here for you whenever you need me.” Such words are reassuring, and leave the conversation open to discussion emotional and spiritual struggles.

You could ask your wife if she has particular things that she wants to talk about, or if there are things that she does not want to talk about. You might ask what she is thinking about and talk with her about her fears. While there are no special words to make a person feel better, there are some words that are unhelpful. An example is something like this: "I know what you are going through." No doubt this is said with the best intentions, but it implies that you have been through the other person's experience and have felt the same things. This can be interpreted as minimizing that person's experience and feelings, and may lead the person to think there is no point in talking about them. Instead, you might say something along the lines of "I do not know how it feels to be in your situation, but I am here to support you." This article offers some tips on listening to and talking with someone facing death:
What Do I Say?

A spiritual perspective may help you and your wife find direction and perhaps even hope, as you deal with the challenges of your situation. It requires making room in the stories you tell about your lives to include the changes your wife’s illness has brought, and requires asking yourselves how you can live meaningfully with the changes. You will need to explore new ways of loving each other and seek a fresh awareness of your spiritual depths and resources. This is difficult work, and it can make you feel vulnerable or anxious at times. However, it can lead to a new and important chapter in your lives individually and as a couple. If you have a religious background, you may want to discuss whether it offers beliefs or practices that could help you now. However, some people find it difficult to embrace one particular religion at a time such as this.

You might ask your wife if she has any specific goals or tasks she wants accomplished, and how you might help her achieve them. She may want to resolve a long-standing conflict or settle some other unfinished business in order to feel peaceful. She may also have some thoughts about how she might leave a legacy. Are there important stories she wants to pass along? Does she want to share a family story or lessons she has learned with children or grandchildren? Research has found that people benefit from feeling they have passed along something significant to their loved ones. Although you might feel uncomfortable starting such a conversation, you could be pleasantly surprised by what you learn. If you have already had these sorts of conversations, you may just want to reminisce and review your life together. This can include stories about both the good times and times that were not as good.

You or your wife may find insight or comfort in one of these articles on the emotional and spiritual aspects of life-limiting illness:

 

This article has information you may find helpful as death approaches:
When Death Is Near