A family member of a patient who was not doing well recently confided in me that the illness really had “brought out the worst in them.” There are a lot of emotions to deal with and unlike television they do not get wrapped up in an hour show. There is the feeling of shock with the diagnosis. Shock is also present with fear. Fear is present from the beginning. Fear of the unknown. Fear of dying. Fear of being alone. Fear of suffering. Fear of being a burden to your loved ones. There are many fears that you and your family face. Fears are best identified and managed by pinpointing exactly what the fear is and dealing with it. This is not easy.
Anger is often directed at the ones closest to you. The family member that I was talking with explained that her husband was so angry about the diagnosis that everything she did annoyed him. She was trying her best but she could not deal with his remoteness. His anger was directed totally at her. She knew that he needed to redirect his anger to the disease but he was not there yet.
Some of the other emotions that pour out at this time are grief. Grief at what you are losing – your life, your relationships. Coming to terms with what has given your life meaning, your past, accomplishments and your regrets. Anxiety, depression, the symptoms can also be identified and managed
We have seen many different people deal with dying in different ways. Often family members ask us what to say, what not to say. A lot of the time the answer is to just listen. Sometimes it is the smallest act of kindness- a cup of coffee, a smile, a hug that can make a difference. There is no one size fits all approach.
There is help available. Someone who is not as emotionally connected to the family can help with coping with these overwhelming emotions.
My patient’s wife was able to talk with her pastor. Her husband is doing better emotionally. Reality is different than television. Dealing with death and dying is real. Life is short and the important things are the relationships and memories that you create.