Terminal Illness


Recently diagnosed with a terminal illness? Not sure where to turn for support?


Despite its inevitability, most people choose not to think about death until the time comes to face it head on, and would prefer to bow out of this life unexpectedly to avoid the pain of knowing they were dying. Today however, life-limiting illness is gradually replacing unexpected and sudden death as the 'norm', and in its place has come a process which starts at terminal illness diagnosis, moves through a period of treatment, and ends eventually in death. 


Once diagnosed, individuals with a terminal illness are left to contemplate their approaching death during what will undoubtedly be a devastating and life changing time. However, with the right tools and support, they can determine to make it a better experience not just for themselves, but also for the loved ones they will leave behind.


If you’re not ready to discuss your situation with the ones you love, or if you would prefer to speak with a neutral party so that you are able to vocalize your thoughts in an environment free from judgement, you may benefit from speaking with a counselor.


Grief/Bereavement Counseling


Bereavement or grief counseling is designed to help people cope more effectively with the death of a loved one, or in this case, supports the grieving process that occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness.


Bereavement counseling can help to:


  • Offer an understanding of the mourning process and grief stages

  • Help you to adjust to a new sense of self

  • Settle any outstanding areas of conflict

  • Address possible issues of depression


Grief Stages


During bereavement we spend varying lengths of time making our way through each stage of grief, experiencing each one either more or less intensely than the last before eventually achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death.


Understanding grief stages can be beneficial for both those living with a life-limiting illness and for those around them – not as a model for how they should feel, but as a guide to help them to understand and put into context where they are.


The grief stages are as follows (these stages do not always follow on from one another, and some individuals may revisit certain stages before progressing to another):


  • Isolation and denial. Often an initial reaction to finding out we are ill, or learning that someone we love is ill, is to deny the reality of the situation. This is a natural defence mechanism that acts as a buffer from the immediate facts and moves us through the first wave of pain. 

  • Anger. As denial and isolation dissipate, hurt begins to resurface and often we do not feel ready for it. In response, we redirect how we feel and express it as anger. The anger may be directed at inanimate objects or strangers – but often for friends and family it may be directed at our dying loved one. While rationally we know the person cannot be blamed, emotionally we may feel resentment for the pain they will cause when they leave us.

  • Bargaining. When we feel helpless and vulnerable a natural reaction is to bargain in an attempt to regain a level of control. We ask questions like ‘What if we were to get a second opinion from another doctor?’ or ‘Why didn’t we seek medical attention sooner?’ We distract ourselves with these questions in the hope of postponing what is to come. 

  • Depression. For those living with terminal illness and their family and friends, sadness and regret may begin to dominate feelings, while practical considerations may also be a source of anxiety as worries about funeral costs and financial stability set in.

  • Acceptance. Reaching this stage does not come easily and does not come for everyone. If the death of loved one was sudden and unexpected, it may take an incredibly long time to start seeing beyond the anger and/or denial. This phase of mourning is generally marked by withdrawal and calm.


While it is natural to experience emotions such as anger, shock and sadness when you hear that you have a life-limiting illness, if you continue to feel unable to cope with the situation to the point where you are unable to do any of the things you want or need to, it may be time to speak with a counselor or arts-based psychotherapist who can help you express these difficult emotions.


Allow us to provide a supportive and compassionate experience for you to express your feelings of frustration and sadness. Let us support you and your family through compassionately creative counseling and arts-based psychotherapy services. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

We are located in Downers Grove and frequently see clients from Downers Grove, Aurora, Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge, Countryside, Darien, Elmhurst,

Glen Ellyn, Hickory Hills, Hillside, Hinsdale, LaGrange, LaGrange Park, Lemont, Lisle, Lombard, Naperville, Oak Brook, Oak Brook Terrace, Oak Park, Riverside, Villa Park, Warenville, Westchester, Westmont, Wheaton, Willowbrook, Woodridge, and Western Springs.


Counseling and arts-based psychotherapy for individuals, groups and families looking for help with children, adolescents, stress, relationships, motherhood, creative parenting interventions, life transitions, trauma, anxiety, depression, divorce, grief/bereavement, autism, communication, caregiving, terminal illness, and career counseling.