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Taking Questions

What does "terminal" or "terminal illness" mean?

You may hear someone say, "My uncle is terminal. He's going to do." Or, "My grandmother has a terminal illness. She will die soon."

When some people get sick or have a disease, they do not get well. A disease is something that works on the whole body. It can be a virus or bacteria (like a germ only even tinier). Most diseases can be helped with medicine or other treatments.

When a disease or illness gets really, really bad, people get so sick the organs in their bodies stop working and they die. When we know someone is going to die, we say they are terminal or terminally ill.

Terminal is another way of saying, "the end." Airplanes "terminate" at an airport. That means they end their flight there. The airport itself is called a "terminal" or "the end of the journey."

Being terminally ill, or terminal, is something like that. It means the person is coming to the end of their journey here on earth.

Some people go into a deep, deep sleep before they die. This is sometimes called a coma.

And there may come a time when I won't be able to talk to you, Megan, but I'll ask your mother to let you come then, too. Because when I smell the lilacs and hear the doves I'll know you were here and in my heart I'll say, "A kiss for my little Megan, to send her on her way."

Lilacs for Grandma by Margene Whitler Hucek

Answer taken from What Does That Mean? A Dictionary of Death, Dying and Grief Terms for Grieving Children and Those Who Love Them by Harold Ivan Smith and Joy Johnson, Center Corporation, 2006.

Suggested questions for future editions can be sent to (please put "Taking Questions" in the subject line).

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