Compliments of Austin Page

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can turn a person’s life and the lives of people around them upside down. As a family member or a friend of someone with a serious illness, you might wonder how you can show your support. If you are the caregiver, your role is crucial, not to mention demanding and exhausting.

This article will discuss how to provide long-term support and care to a loved one with a serious illness.

What to do as a caregiver

Know and accept your limits

Seeing that your responsibilities outnumber your time, energy, or other resources to meet them can trigger stress. It is common among caregivers of terminally ill patients who face so many competing demands to be under a lot of stress. This can be especially difficult when your role as a caregiver changes over time, sometimes unexpectedly, depending on the health of your loved ones. Finding ways to manage stress can make you feel better, protect your health, and improve your ability to care for a loved one.

Open up to someone

Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talking about your emotions with someone you trust—a partner, family member, friend, spiritual leader, or social worker—can make your worries seem less overwhelming. There are also caregiver support groups that allow you to meet and learn from others in similar situations. Social workers offer free resource navigation, counseling, and support groups, including online and telephone support groups for caregivers.

Acknowledge new-found strengths

Throughout their journey, families of terminally ill patients discover strengths they did not know they had. Acknowledge and build on these strengths. For example, you can talk about the courage your loved one showed the first time they underwent chemotherapy or how you successfully assisted them and advocated for their needs. Whether the patient is going through treatment or taking a break, it’s essential to recognize these little victories and stories of courage.

Take care of yourself

It can be extremely challenging to cope with a serious illness in the family. Being riddled with uncertainty this way is not for the faint of heart. As a caregiver, you cannot give what you don’t have. So, take good care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep and rest, and squeeze in a workout in a day at least three times a week. Encourage other members of your family to make healthier choices and necessary lifestyle changes, as well.

Get help

Be open to help. When friends and family ask what they can do to help, ensure you are ready with a list of things they can assist you with. Resources may be available if your family is starting to have financial difficulties. Ask your local social workers about these resources. They can also point you toward available hospice care, home health care, and other community programs.

Ask questions

Knowledge can ease your worries and anxieties about your loved one’s condition. List down your questions and have them ready before your next visit and discussion with your healthcare team. Doctors and healthcare providers will be more than willing to answer your questions and give you pointers on proper care. Encourage your loved one to list down their questions, as well. 

Dealing with anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief refers to dealing with and grieving a loss before it occurs. When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, there are many losses to mourn even before the patient becomes terminally ill—for both the person with the illness and their family and friends. Changes to independence and security, impaired abilities, and shortened future visions are just a few examples of the devastating losses many suffer from.

Dealing with a terminal illness is painful in many ways, but it also allows families to make necessary amends, say “I love you,” and express gratitude towards one another. Ira Byock, author of Dying Well and a long-time hospice advocate, believes that dying people and caregivers should exchange the following phrases:

  • I love you
  • I forgive you
  • Forgive me
  • Thank you
  • Goodbye

As a family, you must also discuss whether it is time to seek professional help regarding end-of-life care. There are hospice services available that can cater to your family’s specific needs. Talk to your doctor and discuss this matter with the patient and the family as early as possible.

Final thoughts

Caring for a loved one with a serious illness is a painful, demanding, and exhausting journey. A sound support system can go a long way in keeping yourself and your family together as you advocate for the patient’s needs. Be honest about your needs and be open to help from family, friends, and your community. And lastly, get familiar with the resources and care services available.

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