How to Cope with the Serious Illness of a Relative

Updated on December 18, 2018

All serious illnesses are a tragedy, but it’s not surprising that those closest to you are the most difficult to deal with. The serious illness of a family member can have a severe effect on the social fabric of your familial network. At the same time as your family bonds closer together than ever, you’ll feel weak and vulnerable due to the stresses of hospital visits, medication issues and everything else that comes with caring for a loved one who’s very sick. 

The following guide is going to highlight useful measures to take when looking after a relative with a serious illness. Remember to lean on other for help and guidance. 

On a Personal Level

We’ll start with the personal level – the level on which you communicate with your sick loved one. While sympathy and compassion are welcome, and a certain sensitivity is crucial, it’s likely that your loved one would rather maintain something akin to their normal social activity while they’re ill. Too much sympathy can get a little sickly; what they’ll actually crave, if they’re stuck in a hospital bed, is humor and honesty – not frowns and extreme delicacy.

In this sense, helping your relative feel like a normal member of your family is the key here. Treating someone like a victim will only make them feel like more of a victim, and there’s something to be said for looking on the bright side. After all, smiles, laughter and good times are some of life’s most effective natural remedies, and something you’ll not want to deprive your loved one of. 

Keep your relative involved in all the family news and gossip, and be thoughtful of what they might most be craving from their sickbed – whether that be a bunch of grapes or the weekend newspaper.

Family Delegation

Behind this interaction should lie a certain level of planning amongst your family. Get your heads together to discuss how best to care for your sick relative so that everyone is pulling their weight to support and nourish the life of an individual who’s very sick. There are a number of ways you can delegate responsibility so that no one person is forced to assume a central, pressured role in the care of your relative.

For instance, making home, hospital or care home visits in shifts is a wonderful way to ensure that your relative isn’t left on their own for a long period of time. Be sure to allow time for your relative to rest, sleep or enjoy their own solitude too, though. You might choose to share the responsibility for feeding your relative, to pay their bills, or to collect their medicine from the pharmacy. Share the load to prevent a primary carer from being overwhelmed.

Look to External Help 

With all serious illnesses there exist a number of first-class organizations with in-depth experience of how to help care for your relative. All you’ll need to do is search for their online webpages and get in touch to find out how they can help you. You may also be recommended some resources to help in your care by doctors or health experts who’re familiar with your relative’s case.

Naturally, there are a great number of different afflictions that your family member might be suffering from. Elderly relatives are at risk of developing serious illnesses such as dementia; in these cases, the diligent and compassionate experts at Dementia Australia will be at hand to help you respond. But there are also organizations dealing with a wide array of illnesses, from the common to the not-so-common. And if the illness you’re encountering is extremely rare, there will still be an online international community of people out there to share tips, advice and support with.

Be Aware of Treatments and Medication

Serious illnesses are most often combatted by a combination of in-hospital treatments and out-of-hospital pharmaceuticals. As a primary carer of someone involved in the support of your sick relative, it’ll pay for you to be knowledgeable about the medical procedures that your relative is undergoing. Some medications, for instance, react badly with other medications, or with certain types of food and drink. It’s important you know your way around these reactions so that you’re always working towards the recovery of your family member.

Equally important in the recovery process will be your awareness of symptoms and signs that your relative is suffering a relapse or another kind of recovery setback. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you’ll be able to inform doctors who can monitor your loved one, securing the correct course of treatment to get their recovery back on track. You’ll either be able to ask your doctor for this information, or you can search online for trusted medical journals and publishers who’ll walk you through some of the most important information about your loved one’s sickness.

Take Time For Yourself

While the serious illness of a family member can be agonizingly painful for you and other caring family members, you should try not to exhaust yourself with worry and obligations. It’s not uncommon for relatives of those with terminal illnesses to invest a huge deal in their sick family member only to leave much of their personal lives in a state of ruin. This piece of advice doesn’t advocate you distancing yourself from your relative; it’s just a gentle nudge to remind you to care for yourself and your own responsibilities at the same time as caring for your relative.

One of the main sources of comfort for you in difficult periods of your life is your friends. Especially true when you are dealing with a serious illness in a close family member, they’re there to help support you and alleviate some of the emotional stress you’ll be experiencing. Share with them your concerns. If you’re withdrawn and upset, let them know why. They’ll be compassionate and understanding and will offer you all the support you need – whether that’s childcare or just a quiet coffee at your friend’s place.

Living with a seriously ill loved one can be difficult, emotionally exhausting, and traumatic. It’s been the aim of this article to help those concerned about the welfare of their loved one to deal with the emotional stresses and responsibilities raised by the sickness of a close relative.

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