One of the most painful and depressing things any of us ever has to deal with is the terminal illness of a loved one. Upon hearing the prognosis, we are overwhelmed with grief, even if death is not imminent. We immediately imagine life without our loved one and the fear of that loss never leaves our conscious minds, usually causing (or increasing the severity of) depression.
Many people who are faced with these circumstances donít want to be alone with the sick loved one because she (or he) doesnít know how to act or what to say. First, remember that this is someone you love. She is the same person you loved, and you are the same person she loved, before you heard the bad news. Just be yourself.
If your sick loved one doesnít want to talk about the illness, donít push it. However, if she does, talk with her about it. People handle such things in different ways, and some want to talk about it while others donít. Let her decide whether it should be discussed.
In a case where your loved one wants to talk about her death and/or funeral arrangements, do NOT refuse the conversation or insist that she is "going to be fine." She needs to talk about these things in order to have her own peace of mind, so focus on that. No matter how difficult the conversation is for you, remember that it is much more difficult for her, but it is necessary. Try to remind yourself that you are doing something for her, and try to feel good about that.
When you are not with the sick loved one, donít feel guilty if you feel like going out and having fun. Just because someone you love is suffering doesnít mean that you canít live your life. You are not required to constantly be there and suffer with her. She wouldnít want that any more than you would want that of her if the tables were turned.
If you are required to be the primary care giver to a loved one who is terminally ill, it is extremely important that you find time for yourself and the other people in your life. Your life cannot and should not cease because of her illness. Find someone to stay with her so you can have lunch with a friend, have your hair done, or spend some quality time with your children and your spouse.
Youíll find that people are probably not beating your door down offering to stand in for you. But why should you be saddled with all the responsibility? If your loved one has other family members, ask them to stay with her so you can have a break. Itís very easy to get completely burned out when youíre doing something that is so emotionally taxing, so be forceful, if necessary.
When family members are unavailable or unwilling to help out, most communities have Respite Care Services. They can send someone to stay with your loved one for predetermined periods of time. In some states, Medicaid or Medicare will cover the cost.
If Respite Care is not an option in your situation, you can hire a ďsitter.Ē Most hospitals have lists of sitters who stay with patients for an hourly fee. Most of them have references and will stay with your loved one in the home. Some work for agencies which are bonded, but those are much more expensive.
Even if none of these options work out, you must make time for yourself. It might not be anything more than a long, hot bath, but even that can be very helpful. Have someone bring you a good book or movie. Work on a craft or other creative project-ósomething that will (somewhat) distract you from the pain and suffering.
Whether or not you are the patientís primary care giver, there will be times when you feel completely overwhelmed with sadness and frustration, or even anger. There is no ďrightĒ way to feel, and youíd have to be a robot to not reach the end of your rope sometimes. When you reach that point, go into another room and have a good cry or punch a pillow. Maybe you could go outside and yell until you lose your voice. Anything you can do to release some of the inevitable tension is beneficial. And donít feel guilty. Itís okay.
When youíre in the throes of depression, itís hard to motivate yourself, but exercising is a great way to relieve tension. If nothing else, you could do sitting leg lifts, and use any light-weight object (like a jar of peanut butter) as a dumbbell to do curls or presses.
When someone we love is terminally ill, we canít help thinking of what comes after this life. Talking about spiritual issues with her can be very comforting to you both. Prayer not only gives you a rush of endorphins--those wonderful, natural pain killers--but it can also give you both a sense of peace about what is to come.
If you are dealing with a loved one who is ill, it is important to give them the best of care, but donít forget to take care of yourself, too. You canít take care of her if you donít take care of you!