When the curtain looks like it's about to fall, it's almost universal that a dying person is going to go through a period of reflection.
What did my life add up to? What did it mean?
When the horizon's clear, and we feel that our days are still many, we tend to look at each day as an opportunity to catch up - to correct at least some of the mistakes we've made, to catch up with those dreams that shimmer tantalizingly out of reach.
And when the test results come in, and you know that the days are, truly, numbered, you end up doing the math.
This is what it adds up to, this life I've lived.
Some people can look back on a life well-lived, but others - perhaps most, especially those life feels like it's being cut short, feel like they're leaving behind too much unfinished business.
And that their lives are like Shakespeare's tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
If your terminally ill spouse falls into this category, it can be heartbreaking.
Heartbreaking because the life you shared, the love you shared, will be dissected and found wanting.
What can you do?
First, remember that this is not about you. It's about loss, and grief, and anger. It's rage against disease, and the prison of time in which your mate is suddenly placed. And it's anger against God for not fulfilling the promises we assume He makes (which He doesn't; he promises much richer rewards, but they're hard to see when you're hurting.)
It's hard to step back, but this is the time to put on something of a professional face, and this is why it's so important to have your own life, apart from the role of the caregiving mate. When you've placed your whole identity into the role you're playing, you're terribly vulnerable to hurts that are certainly not intended...but that nonetheless may never heal.
IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
Second, listen without trying to fix it. Your husband or wife may have to travel to this road to come to some sort of closure. Many people need it, some don't, and you generally won't know until it happens to your spouse...or to you.
It's a process, really. And as painful as it may be over some days or weeks or months, it can, in the end, bring a measure of peace...well, I did my best.
Arguing - trying to point out even obvious failures of logic that paint a negative picture - just puts you in an adversarial role, and may cause your spouse to fight his or her corner, to fight for that negativity.
Sort of like the quarterback getting confused, and running to the wrong goal line.
But there are times when you do have to point out evidence to the contrary, evidence that shows the true worth of a life.
Simple. When it's in the form of a question, and not a statement. "My life sucked" asks for a response along the lines of a wordless hug.
"Do you think my life sucked?" is a plea for alight, to illuminate the past and to create coherence from what feels like chaos.
Third, go for diversion. Reflection's never a terribly useful thing, even when good eventually comes of it; there are just too many dangers. It's an emotional minefield.
Encourage hope, and a connection to the future. I still work on the aeroplane I'm building, even though I know I am not likely to finish it, let alone fly it. But just the act of fashioning a small part - even if it takes me ten times as long as it should - is still a heart-leap into tomorrow.
Yes, I have to talk myself up, sometimes, not to feel it's futile. Actually, sometimes means every morning.
Another way to give a connection to the future, if circumstances allow it, is to get a puppy or kitten. There's something about developing that relationship, and seeing the growth of character, intelligence, and the bonds of love over a fairly short time that nothing else can match.
And it can be lifesaving; there have been documented instances of life being prolonged through the positive attitudes engendered from the love of a dog or cat.