Terminal Illness in the Family

It is hard to have to deal with serious illness in a loved one. However, when the illness is considered to be terminal (fatal or incurable), it is all the harder. Of course there are all the present, practical concerns such as arranging health care, and maintaining the continuing functioning of the family. In the case of terminal illness there is the additional stress of seeing someone you care about battle a disease he or she isn’t likely to win, along with the anticipated grief of loss and unresolved issues from the past. There is no way to make terminal illness in the family easy to bear. But there are some things that can be done to help lighten everyone’s load.

If you are dealing with terminal illness in the family, consider the following tips:

Educate Yourself about the Illness
When dealing with terminal illness in the family it is helpful to get to know the disease as well possible. Understanding the symptoms to expect, having an approximate timeline for the unfolding of the illness and learning about experimental treatment options available to the patient, can help the family maintain some sense of control amidst a chaotic situation. Grounding the family in sound medical opinion can help in making plans and decisions.

Talk about the Terminal Illness, Even with Your Sick Family Member
When there’s a heavy emotional issue in a household, it’s very tempting to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. This denial may be well-intentioned; perhaps you don’t want to upset your sick loved one by discussing an obviously painful subject, or perhaps the family wants to protect its younger members from any further trauma. But keeping silent on the issue just forces everyone to repress negative emotions.

The best support system for family members of a terminally ill patient are fellow family members who understand what is going on. Let the crisis be an opportunity for everyone to bond together, and offer each other much needed care and understanding. Families have been known to find grace in troubled times, grace that helps make members be closer and more resilient.

This may also be the opportunity to say to your sick loved one the positive things you haven’t said before, to express love, gratitude and forgiveness. Get to know your sick loved one’s wishes; wishes for both for immediate concerns like the treatment plan and arrangements for care, as well as future plans for the surviving family.

Share Responsibilities
There are many things that need to be done when there is terminal illness in the family. There’s caring 24/7 for the sick loved one, making sure that household duties such as getting dinner on the table is still happening and looking for additional finances to meet incoming large medical bills. If possible, don’t assign just one caretaker to help prevent care-provider burns out. Instead, look for ways everyone can contribute to manage the crisis. Even younger kids can have a role to play; in fact, new responsibilities can ease feelings of helplessness about the situation.

Make Sure Everyone Takes Self-Care Seriously
Terminal illness in a family causes serious stress, which is why it’s important that everyone — even the youngest family member — knows how to stop for a while and take care of one’s self.

Having a friend or professional outside the family to talk  to can help; during a crisis issues and emotions can get so messed up, it helps to get a fresh perspective. Making sure that everyone gets ample “me” time for rest, relaxation, fu, normal life and maybe a bit of meditation and prayer is also a good thing. Similarly, keeping the entire family’s good health in mind, through proper diet and exercise ensures the family members get a new start everyday.

If it’s an available option, joining a community support group is a good way to aim for self-care. Support groups are made up of people going through the same experience, which helps in removing the feeling of aloneness and intense stress that comes with terminal illness. If a support group is not available in one’s state or area, an online support group may work just as well.

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