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Colorectal Cancer: Nearing End Of LIfe

How To Cope With Emotional Issues

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Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined the five emotional stages to be expected at the end of life. Experience has shown that there is no particular order in which the stages show up and no standard amount of time for which they remain. In fact, you may experience more than one of these emotions at a time. Previously felt emotions may return.

The five stages are:

  • Denial 
    • Denial that you are going to die. 
    • Denial can make you feel as if you are in a dream and going to wake up, or that the doctor or laboratory has made a mistake.  
  • Anger
    • Anger can start with the question "Why me?" or "Why now?"
    • It is worth trying to channel anger in a neutral manner (such as breaking inexpensive plates) instead of taking it out on the people closest to you or the medical staff.  
  • Bargaining 
    • Attempting to bargain with a higher power such as God or Buddha: "If you spare me, I will....."  
  • Depression
    • In addition to the loss of your own life, depression is often prompted by the things you will no longer do, or separation from the people you love, or the dreams that won't happen. 
    • Depression can be treated with medication and with discussion with a mental health provider.  
  • Acceptance
    • Acceptance that life is going to end and becoming peaceful about it.  

It is recommended that you openly share your feelings with friends and family. 

  • Let family members and friends know that you are still hopeful despite discussing the subject of death and the fear of it. 
  • It may be helpful to remind people that talking about something doesn't make it happen - just as not talking about it doesn't mean it won't happen. 

Consider joining a support group or self help group of people in a similar situation. If you can't leave the house, you can participate over the telephone or through the internet.

It is common to look for meaning in life when it appears as if it will end. Meaning helps provide sense to what is happening.

There is no one size-fits-all coping mechanism. Rather, experience shows that the best coping mechanism is whatever helped you get through other crises in your life.

If you need assistance with coping or finding meaning, consider the following:

  • Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers can help - particularly people experienced in end-of-life issues.
  • Priests, rabbis, inmans and other religious and spiritual teachers can provide counseling, solace, and help with meaning.

For additional information, see the documents in "To Learn More."

NOTE: Music may be comforting. Toward the end, Chalice Of Repose arranges for a person to play peaceful music for people close to death (for example, on a harp).To learn more, see: offsite link. Alternatively, a local hospice or disease specific nonprofit organization may be able to make arrangements for peaceful, emotionally healing, music.

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