Coping With Impending Death: A Clinical Exploration of the Grieving Process Through a Terminally Ill Patient's Eyes


In this work, we’re going to understand how to move from clinical experience to development of a case study. Clinical cases are the unique and interesting stories of patients, which can capture all the practicalities and trivialities behind a given condition, disease, or treatment course that are often left out from medical textbooks. Writing a clinical case means transforming theory into practice, although the researcher needs to engage his reader with a compelling narrative instead of just offering analytical data. On the other hand, providing readers with rigorous and objective data ensures that this type of qualitative (instead of quantitative) research is viewed as reliable and scientific as any other type of research.

In our case study, we’re going to describe the story of a patient, a terminally ill woman who had to spend her last days hospitalized in our palliative care ward (Hospice). Our team assisted her and her family through the profound crisis that comes from the trauma of impending death. We had to learn how much psychological distress can affect the well-being and health of a cancer patient, and we experienced with her the emotional journey that comes with mourning one’s own death.

The story of terminally ill patients is marked by unique events that may signal a transition between different stages of awareness of their condition. There’s no linear path through defined stages, as every journey toward death is a personal one. However, on her famous psychology book On death and dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross spoke of “anticipatory grief,” a series of particular emotional stages through which we experience the process of mourning. The experimented emotions follow a somewhat defined pattern including fear, depression, aggression, helplessness, feelings of isolation, despair, and euphoria. Knowing how to recognize and accommodate all the various emotions and adaptive responses of a terminally ill patient is of paramount importance for the operator.

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