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gorillapaws's avatar

Is it better to know you're terminally ill and be given an estimate of how many more months you could expect to live? or to die suddenly?

Asked by gorillapaws (27749points) 1 week ago

I just found out my best friend’s father was given 3–6 months to live. It’s not a total surprise as he’s already had some tumors removed recently.

The situation unsurprisingly has me thinking about mortality, and wondering if it would be better to be given a timeline ahead of time so you can try to resolve your affairs, prepare your friends and family, say goodby to loved ones, etc.? Alternatively, if death comes suddenly, you wouldn’t have the lingering thoughts of your demise overshadowing your final months. What do you think is the better way? Is ignorance bliss?

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28 Answers

canidmajor's avatar

A sudden death, without any preparation, wreaks havoc, emotionally and logistically on the families and survivors of the people I know who have experienced it. I would rather have some time, for the sake of my loved ones, even if it meant I suffered a bit more.

janbb's avatar

I think it’s such a personal choice that it’s impossible to generalize and I really won’t know until I’m faced with the situation – or not, in the case of a sudden death.

Zaku's avatar

We don’t tend to get to choose between those options unless we take actions that tend to cause them…

But hypothetically speaking, it seems to me the wisest option is to realize that one could die unexpectedly at almost any time, and so to live accordingly, doing what one thinks is most important first, rather than putting things off. Easier said than done, perhaps, but worth considering as an outlook.

That is, one does not need to be certain of an impending death, to do the things that one really most wants to do.

But perhaps the greatest reason I might theoretically prefer a sudden death, is of course to avoid whatever suffering might be involved the process of a gradual death. Both for oneself and for those who care about one. It’s been a partial comfort to me that certain loved ones passed suddenly and unexpectedly, for that reason.

On the other hand, there might be a certain type of relief in knowing it was about to be over, as well, which could alter one’s perspective on some things and allow some things to happen that otherwise might not.

cookieman's avatar

Sudden death, if quick and relatively painless is certainly preferred, but it’s a bit selfish (as @canidmajor points out) because it’s terrible for your loved ones.

If I knew the timeline though, it would be a nightmare because my wife would have a nervous breakdown early on and I’d be spending my last days caring for her. She is not what you would call a “rock” when it comes to mortality.

So, neither really works.

smudges's avatar

I’d prefer to know ahead of time so I could maybe get a few of those want-to-before-I-die things done. I’ve just GOT to go to an ocean again. mmmmm and eat crab bisque, and crabs again!

KNOWITALL's avatar

Well with my mom, she’s terminal and knows it, and it’s very hard on her since she tends to depression. I pray for God to let her go painlessly in her sleep.

For me, I can go anytime and everyone will be fine so I’d pick not knowing. But I get all my annual testing so I don’t hide from it.

Sorry for your loss @gorillapaws.

Inspired_2write's avatar

remember that it is an ESTIMATE.
My late father was told that he only had a few months to live .( at age 46 yrs old)
He ended up living 20 more years.
I think doctors determine if a warning would make him shape up since he was a Boxer early in his life.
By the way my late father didn’t change how he was living one iotta.
He died at age 66 years of age.

chyna's avatar

As @KNOWITALL points out, knowing you will be dying soon doesn’t mean you will be healthy enough to get to do your bucket list. It is actually more normal that you will be too sick to do much. I think I would rather go suddenly and quietly in my sleep.

JLeslie's avatar

If I’m terminal I want to know rather than an illness killing me without warning. This is not the same in my mind as getting hit by a bus or dying quickly from an aneurysm.

I think how old I am might matter how I react. It’s hard to know for sure how I would feel in the situation.

I remember sitting in on a presentation done by a doctor a nurse and a social worker. The doctor talked about delaying giving a terminal diagnosis to a patient and the nurse talked about how horrific it is to delay (in her opinion) or even worse not telling a patient they were dying.

kritiper's avatar

It’s always better to die suddenly. For example, Sudden Cardiac Arrest is your friend.

Forever_Free's avatar

Of course it is better for you to have more time.
I think that goes for you and for your family. You have time to get things in order, reflect on your life, and allow time for your loved ones to prepare.

janbb's avatar

@Forever_Free You’re ignoring the fact that if you are terminally ill, you are probably in pain and debilitated.

Forever_Free's avatar

@janbb while I agree there is pain and loss of quality of life, I am not ignoring that. Perhaps some depth on experience in this that I have had ​from the side of being the one that experienced the loss of others.
My Father , my future Father-in Law, sudden and unexpected loss from Heart Attack and Plane crash respectively.
A Fiance, Ex-Wife , ex FIL, and Best friend to terminal cancer diagnosis.
I will respectfully still stand on my feelings of an ability to be with them in support and parting. Each of them expressed a gratitude in being able to express parting even while in pain at the end.

janbb's avatar

@Forever_Free I see what you are saying.

jca2's avatar

I haven’t read any of the previous answers, yet.

Of course it’s a personal choice, but in my case, I think it would be easier to die suddenly, as there would be no anxiety or depression related to it.

As for what it’s like for the family, I think either way it’s terrible and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I know when my mom died of cancer, she was diagnosed at stage 4 which usually means you have less than five years to live, and she lived over six years after she was diagnosed. She had surgery to remove the tumor, and chemo and radiation, and then in a few years, more chemo. Only at around the last six months was it clear that she was not going to win the battle. Prior to that it was constant tests and doctor appointments and changing of medications and dealing with side effects and waiting for new test results. It was a constant roller coaster of good news and bad news and hope and defeat. It was frustrating and depressing for the whole family, and everyone was dealing with it in their own way. It would have been equally devastating if she died suddenly out of the blue, but in a totally different way. We got to say goodbye to her which was really nice. I went to a grief counselor once before she died, and the second visit was after she died. I talked to the grief counselor about some things I wanted to say to my mom, and i got to say them. The grief counselor was very encouraging and we got to talk about what my mother meant to me and the things I wanted to say.

In my conversations with the grief counselor, I said now that I was around 50, I notice that I’m at the age where my friends are dying more frequently and my friends’ parents are dropping dead, and she said yes, this is the age when people start dying more frequently. She was very personable and not dour or grim in her demeanor, yet she was sympathetic and compassionate. The grief counselor was a free service from the local Jewish community services, and was free for anybody, and was not related to my insurance or my religion.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe the best combination is to know ahead, but have an unfortunate accident before the pain and attack on the mind and/or body is at an extreme. That’s what euthanasia is about in a way. Although, most people who have the option of ending their life legally due to terminal illness usually don’t choose to exercise it.

janbb's avatar

@JLeslie “Although, most people who have the option of ending their life legally due to terminal illness usually don’t choose to exercise it.”

That’s interesting. Do you have a source for that? I would assume the opposite but I don’t know. I agree with your point though that knowing so you have time to say goodbye and tidy up your business but knowing that you can end it before it becomes too painful or too much of a burden is the best idea.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb I found this:


In countries where it’s legal, a 2016 reviewTrusted Source found euthanasia accounts for 0.3 to 4.6 percent of deaths. More than 70 percent of those deaths were related to cancer.

The review also found that in Washington and Oregon, doctors write less than 1 percent of prescriptions for assisted suicide.


When I wrote my original comment about it I was talking in the strictest sense of a lethal injection in a place that has legal euthanasia. People are overdosed on morphine all the time to hasten death, or have liquids and food withheld combined with pain meds to hasten death, and I don’t know what that statistic really is. My guess is it is much higher than recorded or reported on any official documents.

janbb's avatar

^^ Thanks.

smudges's avatar

My mom was given about 3 years to live, and my parents told us kids. But later, when she was given about 5 months to live, they didn’t tell us until the last couple of weeks that she was nearing her time. From my standpoint, I would have liked to have known about those 5 months, but at least I got to see her before she died.

On the other hand, when my brother took his own life, it was shocking. My mom and dad were already gone, and it was just my sister and I, all living in separate states. I wish I’d known he was feeling so desperate.

My best friend’s daughter, who I’d seen grow up, was in her early 40’s. She knew far enough ahead of time that she was able to do a couple of things she wanted to do – she visited NYC, and swam with the dolphins.

I’ve lost many people to death, and imo, it’s important that if you know you’re dying, that you tell those you love. I think it’s a gift to them. It lets them think about you, remember times with you, thank you, forgive you if necessary, and give you their love while you’re alive to acknowledge it. It’s a gift to yourself too, because you can do all of those things also, if you wish. You’ll be gone, they’re the ones who will have to deal with their emotions. If I can, I would want to make it easier for them.

JLeslie's avatar

@smudges You made me think of my friend who I lost a couple of years ago. We had known each other since 5th grade, and have always been in touch. She died when she was 51. I learned she was very sick three weeks before and did not know I only had a few weeks to see her. I WISH I had immediately driven to see her. The morning I texted her to say I’m coming on Monday if that’s ok with her, the reply I received back was, this is her mom, she died this morning.

I realize now she already knew she was sick at least a month before I found out she was sick, because she told me she found a photo of me that she would send me, and I told her to hold onto it because I wanted to plan a trip.

I’m not sure why she didn’t tell me right away. Maybe shame, maybe denial. It was her alcoholism that eventually killed her, her organs were too damaged. She had been dry for very long stretches though. If I had been with her before she died I definitely would have considered it a gift.

gorillapaws's avatar

There’s a bunch of really fantastic answers here. Thanks for being such an awesome bunch of people. I hadn’t considered many of the points that some of you brought up.

smudges's avatar

@JLeslie I’m so sorry you missed out on seeing your friend. My best friend since I was 17 lived in Florida, I was in Nebraska. She called one day and told me she didn’t have a lot of time left, but didn’t say how long. We talked by phone when we could – she got out of breath too easily. I knew I couldn’t visit her due to logistics, but I didn’t know that one phone call would be the last time we spoke. I took a picture of my face and sent it through text to her sister, who was with her, and asked her just to show it to her and tell her ‘thank you for being my friend’. She told me Kathy was pretty much out of it and wouldn’t understand. I had waited too long and it made me so sad.

I don’t know if this is comforting or not, but maybe your friend didn’t tell you sooner because it would have been too painful to talk to you or see you that ‘one last time’. There’s no doubt that she loved you. I’m glad she had some dry stretches.

Jonsblond's avatar

I think it’s best to live each day as best you can with no regrets. I would do this with or without a timeline.

Having some preparations in place is helpful.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I was given 4–6 days to live. Last February. I am on a list for organ donation. But. I was told that I would likely die before a donation, or not survive the surgery.
There is a duality, in such a prognosis.
I find great satisfaction, in beating the odds. Yet sanity is hard to cling to.

I was long prepared for a rather quick death. But. The suffering and has given me a reason to find strength against adversity I was unaware was possible.

There’s also a sort of freedom, which accompanies the the knowledge that I could simply drop dead at any moment.

I appreciate the little things more now. I wish I had the abilities, I have lost during this experience.

I suppose I realize that we are all mortal. Regardless of how you look at it, or your health. Sadly, the clock starts when you are born.

Personally. I find that the deaths of other people I care about, to be harder than worrying about my own life.
In short.
I believe it’s the circumstances in which we live , not how we die that is ultimately important.

smudges's avatar

@MrGrimm888 I believe it’s the circumstances in which we live , not how we die that is ultimately important.

Ahh yes, The Dash. The date you were born and the date you died aren’t what really matter. It’s “the dash” — those years in between and what you do with them — that does.

I have the youtube link for this if you’d like it…didn’t want to push it onto you.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Oh yeah. If you mean the tombstone thing. Same concept.

smudges's avatar

^Yep. :o)

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