Coping with a family illness

Lefty Graves

**This article is based on nonfiction by actual events that were witnessed firsthand by me; used with permission.

Life is going along smoothly when all of the sudden you hit a bump in the road. A loved one, spouse, child, or other relatives, has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. How do you cope? What do you do?

In my family, we had to deal with several children who had childhood cancers. At one point in time, I spent 54 days straight in hospital with my very sick daughter. After my initial shock and disbelief, I began to write out ways to cope.

Educate yourself and your family about the recently diagnosed illness. This may include visits to the library, the doctors, and hours on the Internet researching the chronic illness that your family member has just been diagnosed with. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand something!

Be a source of strength for the patient. Easier said than done I know. Save your tears for elsewhere and be brave here. The last thing your loved one wants or needs to see is your distress.

Be encouraging and allow them to grieve if need be. Assist them in getting pastoral help if desired and be available if they just want to talk about it.

Assist the doctors in your family medical history. Above all, be honest. Hiding that Aunt Elma had a specific disorder is not appropriate. It may be a key to unlocking the disease.

Take advantage of all support organizations for your loved one's medical condition. You may sign up with several only to find that one specific one gives your family the most emotional and/or educational support. Ask your hospital's Social Service department for recommendations, look up the condition on the Internet and see if local groups are dealing with the disease.

Don't neglect other family members, especially children. Children often blame themselves for the disorder, “If only I hadn't wished Aunt Elma would get sick because she scolded me...”. Reassure them that it is not their fault, they had nothing to do with the condition. Get them involved in a support group as soon as possible and assist them as much as possible in dealing with their loved one's condition.

Share with your church members and when they ask how they can help, have a few ideas in mind to answer them. Don't be afraid to ask for meal assistance when in for treatment or just home from treatments. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance with housework or other chores or even childcare if needed.

Take time for yourself daily. Whether you go for a daily walk, to the gym, or just a long soak in the tub with a good book. Take time out from your stress and give time to yourself! This is healthy and a very important coping mechanism.

Share with other patients' families in the waiting room. Chances are they are going through many of the same feelings that you are. You might make some great friends this way. At the very least you will certainly see that you are not alone, that other families are going through a very similar situation.

Be honest with your loved ones without frightening them. Children often ask, “Am I going to die?” The truth is, everyone dies eventually and we do not know when each of us is going to die. Medical science is continuing to update procedures and medicines to cure diseases and conditions.

Enjoy the time you have with your loved one and cherish every moment. Embrace this chance to draw close to them and do not begrudge the time you spend with them whether it be sitting beside them in the hospital or the clinic or just keeping them company on a bad day. Stay in the moment and cherish every day with your loved one.

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Lefty has been writing online since 2000 on various topics, including youth mentoring, addiction, parenting, gardening, advocating for seniors, sustainability, farming & more. She resides on a farm with her family in Northeastern Washington state.

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