No one can prepare us for the experience of providing care for a seriously ill family member or friend. When sickness strikes someone close to us, there may be a sense of chaos, urgency, and confusion. Details must be agreed upon, phone calls made, and appointments kept. You’d like to sit and catch your breath, but chances are there is a list of tasks and you’re already running behind.
Illness has a way of sweeping the rug right out from under us. Some illnesses are chronic, part of our loved one’s day-to-day existence – and ours as well. Others may first appear in the form of a suspicious lump, a questionable lab result, or an accident. Whether chronic or acute, you’ve got a lot on your mind, heart, and plate. This article is written for you – a few ideas to help you so that you can better help your loved one.
Get centered – Stop, for just a moment, and look at your daily routine. Are you getting enough nutritious food? Enough sleep? Are you able to go for a walk, even around the grounds of the hospital? You can’t drive a car on an empty gas tank. Take a minute to make sure you include some element of self-care. If this feels overwhelming, keep reading.
Get connected – Meet the doctors and caregivers involved in your loved one’s treatment. Explore resources for support in your community. Hospitals usually have a Social Services office, oftentimes with social workers and others who can talk with you, offer ideas and resources, and help you navigate this experience.
Get answers – Got a question about your loved one’s treatment? Ask. Noticing a new symptom or a side effect of medication? Tell someone. Clinicians are often bound by confidentiality, which may or may not apply depending on your circumstances. It doesn’t hurt to ask or to speak up. Knowledge is power. While we are on the topic of answers, is this the time to become aware of your loved one’s treatment wishes, legal matters, preferences about his or her personal paperwork? These can be some of the most difficult decisions we ever have to make, but they are important to consider in the case of serious illness.
Get support – It can be easy to isolate and lose touch with your friends and family, however, having concerned others who can be there for you is vital. Allow others in. If you can, remain involved in school, work, and activities you enjoy. Some days you may need to share how you are feeling with a friend. Other days you may not be able to give one more status report and just want someone to go to a movie with you. Friends and family can be a vital part of your wellness team.
Get control – “Control?? You’ve got to be kidding!” It may feel right now like nothing is within your control. Serious illness or injury can sweep through your life like a force of nature. But hear me out. What can you control right now? Making decisions about mundane tasks like what to wear or what to have for dinner can add a tiny spot of normalcy. You can prioritize your day in any way available to you: “I will spend an hour at the hospital this morning, then when Mom goes down for x-rays, I will go down to the coffee shop and call a friend.” Getting control may also mean knowing your limitations and saying “No” when you need to.
Finally, get hope. When someone is diagnosed with serious illness, it may be hard to know what the future holds. There is a fine line between facing a significant medical diagnosis realistically, and holding onto hope for recovery. You may find yourself wavering between hoping for the best and yet fearing the worst. You are not alone in this state of confusion. Finding peace and balance can come as you work through the barrage of feelings, thoughts, and fears that are an inherent part of serious medical crises. Reach out to your support system, and allow others to help. If you have a spiritual path, this is a good time to spend some time connecting with your faith. Most of all, take the best care of yourself that you can during this stressful time.
Life holds no guarantees, but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier when we face a medical crisis. You are not alone. Allow others to help, find quiet moments for reflection alone as well as connection with your loved one who is ill, and if you begin to feel your level of distress is overwhelming, reach out and talk to someone you trust.
© Copyright 2011 by Tammy Fletcher, M.A.. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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