My wife of 31 years, Lynne, lost her life to glioblastoma in 2010 following a battle lasting almost four years against the deadly disease. Glioblastoma is a stage 4 brain tumor, known for its fast-growth and recurring properties. As her family caregiver, I learned about many topics that surface during the care of someone facing a life-threatening illness. This article covers the topic of grief and how preparing a living will helped with my grief. I hope that the lessons I learned will encourage you to create a living will.
Despite all of the good intentions early in life to prepare a living will, neither Lynne nor I had done so. After her initial brain surgery and recovery, we both prepared a living will and health care power of attorney. Preparing the living will to document Lynne’s advanced directives enabled us to discuss Lynne’s decisions regarding the end of her life. The health care power of attorney allowed me to represent Lynne when she could not make decisions herself. The discussions we had and documenting them for legal purposes helped me significantly during the final week of her life and the weeks following her death. Knowing that the decisions I made on Lynne’s behalf were those that she desired lifted a heavy weight from my heart. The doubts that surfaced in my mind following her death eased slightly, as I knew I was following her desires.
The many discussions that Lynne and I shared about death and dying during her illness were paramount to my grief recovery. Family members, who openly communicate about death, tend fare better than families with less open communication (Black, as cited in Carmon, Western, Miller, Pearson, & Fowler, 2010). One reaction to grief is personal growth. This reaction seems most predominant in those that openly communicate about their grief. Other reactions to grief include such things as anger, blame, despair, and panic (Carmon, et al., 2010). The discussions between Lynne and me helped to reduce the uneasiness we held about the dying process. In the final months of her life, I began to sense Lynne’s own internal preparation for that day. My selfish nature desired that she live but she showed signs of exhaustion from the three-year battle. As I reflect on those discussions, they are some of my most treasured and valuable memories.
It is impossible to prepare completely or anticipate all of the emotions and other concerns we face during a loss. I believe that preparing and anticipating the loss causes thinking and actions that help to minimize, if only slightly, the grief of the loss. Reminiscing and expressing emotions with family and friends provide effective coping tools after the death. For me and my hope for you is that the hopelessness turns into hope, and the grief turns into joy, as you learn to push forward and reflect on the positive memories and the legacy of the life that was lost.