You’ve found out you’re dying. It’s the kind of news that has the power to tear your world apart. Any number of thoughts may be racing through your head. You may be asking yourself, ‘How will I cope? How can I carry on living my life, knowing what I know now?’ You may have told yourself that death is something that happens to other people. It probably never seemed like this day would come. But here you are – it’s time to face death head-on. Remember: you’re not alone. There are people out there who will support you through this, even if they won’t always understand what you’re going through.

What to do when you find out you’re dying

Take stock of your emotions

When you find out that you’re dying, it’s normal for your mood to fluctuate. The onslaught of emotion following the diagnosis of a terminal illness can be similar to those of the grieving process; shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. However, you may also be afraid. It’s justifiable – death is frightening. It’s this huge unknown none of us really understand, and it will be impossible to get your head round it immediately. It’s one thing to recognise you are dying from a practical standpoint, and another to feel its full significance.

Tell your loved ones you’re dying

You may find it difficult to tell people you are dying, but it’s important you seek out support. Not only do you owe it to your family and closest friends to let them know, just being able to voice how you feel out loud can be a huge relief. Try not to feel self-conscious of your appearance. Your loved ones are here for you, no matter how ill you look.

Decide who you can trust to talk about your feelings. It may be that there are some people you want to talk to, and others you’d rather not. It’s OK if you don’t want to speak to anyone about it; sometimes silence is easiest. If you need to talk about it and there’s no one you can open up to, Marie Curie gives emotional support and practical advice to those suffering from a terminal illness.

Ask for help

Don’t try to cope with everything on your own; if you need help, ask for it. You may have friends and relatives to look after you and help with day-to-day care as your condition worsens, or you may need to seek out support from carers. This can ease the strain on your family, freeing them up to spend more quality time with you. If the condition is likely to worsen to a stage where you need constant care, discuss care plans and how best to manage the condition. Now is a great time to research your illness if you haven’t already. It will put you in a more informed position to make the best end-of-life decisions. Consult with your GP on ways to manage the symptoms.

Plan ahead

Get the important things out of the way first. Do what you can while you still have the energy and clarity of thought. Decide how your possessions will be distributed. You may need to write a will, or revise one you wrote some time ago. Some people choose to distribute possessions to their family in person; it’s hard for family members to fight over who gets what if you are there making the decisions. The gift is also then attached to a tangible memory of you.

Making funeral arrangements eases the pressure on your loved ones, and guarantees your funeral will be truly meaningful. The best way of taking care of funeral arrangements while you’re still alive is to take out a funeral plan. This will freeze your costs at today’s prices, so if you still have a little while to go, this can save you a lot of money. A funeral plan will also ensure that your funeral will be exactly as you want it to be.

Another idea is to write a letter to your nearest and dearest, recounting memories and hopes for the future. Some people write letters to their children for when they turn eighteen, if they won’t be around to see them grow up. If you need to address any unresolved disputes, do this in person if you can. Consider carefully whether you wish to write a letter – you have a rare opportunity to plan for once you are gone. Make the most of it.

when you're dying

Think about what’s important to you – and then make this your priority

It’s vital you spend your time not just coping with the fact you’re dying, but actively pursuing the things that bring you joy. If, for you, this is your friends and family, then this is the time to draw them near, and let them know they are loved. These last moments tend to be the most memorable, so make them count.
Don’t try to do everything at once. You may have always wanted to skydive, go on an around-the-world cruise, try a certain kind of cuisine, see the Northern Lights. Pick one or two reasonably realistic dreams that mean the most to you. There’s no emphasising this enough: you need to prioritise your time. Your plans don’t need to be especially adventurous, either. If you love nature, spend time outdoors. Go for a walk. If you love to read, you could spend days with a good book, or listen to audiobooks if that suits your circumstances better. It can be incredibly fulfilling to take joy in the little things.

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