A rather surprising story has come out of Sweden, regarding family members (particularly spouses) who remain uninformed of their loved one's terminal illness. Many were simply not told by doctors that their spouse's illness was terminal until right before the spouse died.
In fact, "Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm surveyed nearly 700 Swedish men who lost their wives to breast, ovarian or colon cancer in 2000 or 2001. More than 40% of widowers surveyed said they were either never told their spouse's cancer was incurable, or weren't told until just before her death. About 85% of participants said they, or the next of kin, should be told immediately when a spouse's cancer is incurable, a proportion that includes 71% of the men who did not recall being told this information about their own wives. "Sweden is not unique in this lack of communication," says lead author Hanna Dahlstrand, an oncology resident at the Karolinska Institute. "It's likely the same in nearly all Western nations.""
In America, increased privacy laws mean doctors need the patient's permission to discuss their medical information with loved ones, so both doctors and patients need to be conscientious about their communication.
But interestingly, not everyone wants to know that their loved one is going to die. 15% of people in this Swedish study said that they did not want to know that their loved one was near death.
How much information we have about our dying spouse, however, may directly impact our recovery and coping skills after they die. According to this story, "The new study is part of a larger inquiry into how people prepare for the nearing death of a spouse. Very little research has been done on how communication before death affects a widow or widower's physical and mental well-being after their spouse is gone. One study, published last spring in the journal Death Studies, found that knowing ahead of time that a spouse is fatally ill may give the surviving partner an opportunity for closure and may prevent extreme depression later on. The paper warns that while most mourners eventually recover from the loss of a loved one, about 20% will face chronic emotional difficulties. Having a chance to say goodbye can mitigate those future problems. "It was less about how much was said, as long as you had the chance to say what you wanted to say," says lead author Patricia Metzger, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Wyoming. "People want that time to remind their spouse how much they love them.""
Are you like the 15% of participants who would not wish to know their spouse was about to die? Or would you prefer to remain fully informed of your loved one's progression towards death? How do you think each decision would affect your coping skills once your loved one was gone?
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