Hearing the news of your mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis can send anyone into a state of shock and disbelief. Whether you’ve lost a parent as a teenager or as an adult, the pain doesn’t lessen the older you are. It may only hurt differently because of where you’re at the time of your mother’s death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Preparing For Your Mother’s Death From Cancer
- Tips for Coping After Your Mother’s Death From Cancer
A cancer diagnosis can mean having to prepare for losing a parent as a teenager, or as an independent adult, depending on your age when you receive the news. Expect your life to take on a dramatic shift once a terminal diagnosis is made.
You’ll need to develop coping skills for both preparing for her death and for when the disease ultimately claims her life.
Tip: If you recently lost your mother, you might be sorting through the complex life she left behind. Our post-loss checklist can help you understand what tasks you should tackle next.
Tips for Preparing For Your Mother’s Death From Cancer
Preparing for your mother’s death can sometimes be as difficult as processing her death. The anticipation of her dying may cause you to feel anxious and depressed way before the actual death occurs.
There are ways for you to cope with these fears and anxieties, but you’ll need to experiment with a few until you find what works best for you.
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1. Curb your anxieties
Seeing your mom’s health condition deteriorate over time may leave you feeling helpless, sad, and even angry at times. Unfortunately, this is the nature of this disease. The best that you can do to help her is to offer your love and support during this time.
Having her see you suffer from grief and sadness in anticipation of her death may lead her to feel guilt and other negative emotions associated with dying.
Try and settle your anxieties whenever you’re around her. You can do this by taking brief walks around the block if you’re in a caregiving position. Short breaks will allow you to gain control of your feelings and emotions so that you don’t pass on those anxieties to her.
2. Get informed
Although cancer strikes many people every year, most people don’t know how to handle it when someone’s dying of cancer. To get a feel for what it’s really like, you either have to go through the experience yourself or perhaps hear about it from others. You can also read about it online or find some books about cancer.
The more information you have as you’re going through this process, the better you’ll be able to handle it when death comes. Nothing can fully prepare you for your mother’s death from cancer, but learning more about what to expect will better prepare you to deal with certain aspects of the dying process.
3. Make a checklist
Maintaining a checklist of all the things that must be taken care of can help distract you from being overwhelmed. End-of-life planning must be done for your mother as she nears her death.
Keep a simple checklist at hand so that you can check it throughout the day to keep your mind busy. Ask your mom what she would like to include in that list, and see to it that things are taken care of for her.
Some things to consider are:
- Drafting a last will and testament
- Finalizing funeral arrangements
- Getting financial affairs in order
- Saying her goodbyes to loved ones
- Setting up spiritual care for her
4. Spend quality time together
Whether you’re acting as a caregiver to your mom or you visit her often, make room for some quality time together that doesn’t involve the mechanical aspects of caring for her.
Take time aside to sit and talk with her about the things that are important to both of you. Consider asking your mom what she would like to talk about and what fears she’s facing now that her end of life is drawing near.
5. Plan a special day for visitors
Ask your mother if she’s open to the idea of receiving guests so that she has a chance to see them before she dies. Plan for either solo visits from each invited guest, or have an open visitation where you choose a day and invite guests to drop in at their convenience.
Make sure that mom is looking her best. Consider doing her hair and makeup. And, if she’s able to, dress her in one of her finest articles of clothing as a symbol of the celebration of her life.
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6. Get support
When dealing with the death of your mother, it’s important to seek and obtain support from your group of friends or family. At times, things may get rougher than anticipated and you may want to consider eliciting the help of a professional grief counselor.
A counselor or therapist will be able to help you sort through your feelings so that you can better understand what you’re going through. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.
Tips for Coping After Your Mother’s Death From Cancer
When you’re dealing with the death of your mother from cancer, it can seem as if it’s unfair that your mother had to die this way. You may find yourself finding blame in everyone and everything. It may also be difficult to forgive yourself for not having done more to keep her from dying.
Understand that all of these feelings are a normal part of the grieving process, and in time you’ll start to see things differently. There are different types of grief to every kind of loss imaginable, but no two people will ever grieve the same even when they’ve both lost their mother to cancer. Grief affects everyone differently, and this includes you.
Here are some ways to make it more bearable after suffering the loss of your mother.
7. Let out your grief
Regardless of the type of relationship you had with your mother, whether loving or contentious, expect that grief will strike you in unimaginable ways. You may think of yourself as a strong and resilient person, only to find yourself overwhelmed with grief after she dies.
One of the best ways of getting a handle on this is to allow your grief to take shape. In essence, don’t hold yourself up to preconceived notions about what you should be feeling and when you should be feeling it. Some people may not experience debilitating grief for a few days or weeks following the death, while others may not feel that at all. Try not to gauge your grief by comparing yourself to how other people are experiencing theirs.
8. Gather your support group
When you’re in mourning, you may find it difficult to function in your everyday life. Reach out to those that love and support you and ask them to help you get through the initial days following your mother’s death.
Your grief is understandable to most, and getting the help you need should come easily. You’ll likely not need to explain to anyone why you can’t get out of bed to take care of yourself or your family.
9. Take it day by day
Try focusing on living your life one day at a time after losing your mother to cancer. It’s been a difficult journey for you seeing her undergo a transformation from the woman you once knew her to be to how she was when she died. These memories will likely follow you for the rest of your life.
Try to stay present in each moment of each day. Don’t think too much about the “what ifs” because it can lead you to a chronic state of depression. Try focusing on the positive memories of her life instead.
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10. Plan a memorial
One of the grief rituals you’ll go through is either planning a funeral, a cremation, or holding a memorial service for your mother.
Memorial tributes don’t need to be anything expensive and elaborate to be special. Try and think of ways that best embody the essence of who your mother was when planning her memorial service.
For example, if she was free-spirited and loved nature, gather underneath a beautiful tree in a public park. Ask her friends and family to join you in saying a few kind words about your mother and wishing her a final farewell.
Use songs and poems that honor a mother's memory to make the service even more special.
11. Keep a special memento
As the family is going through your mother’s personal belongings, ask if you can hold on to an item that reminds you of a special time the two of you shared.
Hold this memento close to you so that you can reach for it when you need a little extra love and support from her. It can be anything that makes you feel connected to her. Consider holding on to a special piece of clothing like her wedding dress, or what she wore to your graduation.
12. Seek counseling
Grief counseling or therapy can help you gain closure after your mom’s death. A counselor will usually help talk you through your grief, while a therapist will assign you certain tasks to help you cope as you grieve your mother’s death.
Many people find that getting the help they need online is easier than going to a therapist in person. Others prefer the in-person one-on-one visit over the impersonal online chats. Figure out what works best for you and give counseling a try.
Losing Your Mother to Cancer
Not many people know what to say when someone dies of cancer. You may feel very isolated and misunderstood for several weeks after your mother’s death. The people who were there to lend you support may start distancing themselves from you until you get over your grief.
There is no getting over your profound loss. You’ll slowly learn to adjust without your mother’s physical presence. In a few weeks, your pain will start to ease somewhat, and you’ll slowly regain the will to carry on.