If you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having a family member who’s seriously ill, you may be wondering how to handle this delicate situation. Your loved one needs emotional support now more than ever, but their illness may also bring past conflicts and tensions to the forefront. Here’s how to handle the family dynamics.
Mind your motivations
While it’s true that most families indeed have the best interest of the ailing member in mind, a serious illness may tip some toward their own self-serving interests. Tensions may escalate into judgment, and disagreements about the ill loved one’s treatments can descend into discord. Childhood politics and pecking orders may resurface, and personality clashes may be renewed.
Allow your loved one their autonomy as long as possible
As long as the sick family member is mentally able to make their own decisions, let them. Don’t go behind closed doors with their doctors, and allow the patient the dignity of making their own choices about their medical management and personal life, too. If their illness is expected to eventually render them mentally incompetent, make sure they name a health care proxy while they are still able to do so. This decision is not small, so the ill family member should be allowed ample time to make a well considered, thoughtful declaration.
A health care proxy should not be named solely on rank in the family. The family member -or perhaps a trusted family friend- who can best cope with illness and dying ought to be placed in charge of the patient who can no longer make their own health care directives, explains Huffington Post.
Everyone in the family needs to remember that the assigned medical proxy is the one with the most accurate and up-to-date information about the ill family member’s condition and should be respected as such. By trusting the proxy to share information as it becomes available, the family shows their best possible support.
Unite in support of your loved one
No matter how strained family relationships become, resist the temptation to talk about each other behind backs. If one family member has a problem with another, deal with it directly, but never in front of the one who’s ill. Having an ill loved one to worry about can be stressful. Deal with your own emotional issues, and don’t act out in front of the family. Respect the routine that has been established for the patient, and don’t contribute to any infighting or animosity.
A diagnosis of a terminal illness can rock a family’s world. Once it is revealed that a family member is dying, life as you knew it changes forever. Try to live as normally as you can, and spend the time you have together wisely, advise experts at Prevention magazine. Simple activities can bring big joy to your ailing loved one, so be sure to include them in as many get-togethers as possible. Family meals may be richer for knowing that one member may not be there much longer.
Ask your loved one questions, and don’t try to be a mind reader. Discuss how your elderly family member wants to spend their remaining time, ask what they worry about, and offer help in any way you are able. If they are willing to discuss death, talk about that, too. Many friends and families of terminally ill patients find guidance and support at SHARE Cancer Support.
Listen to your loved one
Now is the time to get to know your loved one, if you haven’t already. Ask questions, and really listen to their answers. Make eye contact, nod your head, and stay engaged in these final conversations, no matter how long they take.
Never underestimate the importance of your presence, even if your ill loved one doesn’t say much. Do remember, however, that you are not there to serve as a counselor. You’re there to offer love and emotional support. If your loved one has come to terms with their diagnosis, that’s nice. If not, it’s still okay. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with impending death, remind mental health experts at Mayo Clinic.
Live each day with gratitude, spend as much time as you can with your family member, and Allow your loved one to set the pace and tone of conversations. If they want to cry, cry with them. If they laugh, laugh together. You may find yourself delighted and surprised by funny stories you didn’t know before.