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Vunessuh's avatar

Upon really stressful and overwhelming moments, how do you deal with living with and/or taking care of a close loved one who is sick and dying?

Asked by Vunessuh (16696 points ) June 25th, 2011

This question is mostly for those who have been around a very ill loved one on a day-to-day basis, but anyone who has been affected by the serious illness of a loved one is welcome to answer.

How difficult was it for you to see them in pain day after day? How did you handle it? Were you able to block it out? Did you have other people to talk to? How did you make it easier for yourself to handle your own sadness and grief?

Even the most optimistic person in the world is going to feel down from time to time over a situation like this and I imagine feeling stressed and overwhelmed when you live with this person and/or take care of this person is pretty inevitable, so it’s not always easy to “stay positive”. When those moments occurred, what were the coping mechanisms you used to get through them? What did you do for yourself? What made you feel better? If you were able to maintain balance, how did you do it?

If you’re willing to share, I’m also interested in knowing any thoughts and feelings you experienced when this was happening and how (if at all) you were able to maintain other aspects of your life that did not relate to this situation/person and how you reached a point that didn’t include consistently worrying or feeling sad over the condition in which the person you loved was in.

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11 Answers

aprilsimnel's avatar

Shortly before my surrogate Mom was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, I’d moved in the house to stay for a bit while looking for a new apartment. Then she saw the doctor. She was in the hospital 2 or 3 times, then she was sent home for good. I was unsure as to what I could do to help.

What made it easier was that everyone came home with her and took turns caring for her, making sure she had whatever she needed, be it food, drink, personal needs, and so on. No one was overwhelmed except for Dad, who couldn’t stand the thought that he was rapidly losing his wife, and so we pitched in to take care of him as well. She wasn’t in much pain, but her energy level just sank and she got frighteningly thin. It was hard to take in at first, because I’d never seen anyone dying before.

I took time alone to cry. I spent as much time with her as I could without taking time away with her biological children, who were all adults, but of course, were all in even more in pain over losing her than I was.

You have to reach out and tell someone you’re overwhelmed, if that’s the case. You’re going to feel sad. Allow yourself that. Maybe not in front of the dying person, but take some time where, if only for a few minutes, you allow that sadness to wash over you. It’s going to be there whether you want it to be or not, so you may as well let it go through you. Get plenty of sleep. Treat yourself well with good food and lots of water.

Unfortunately, at the time she came home for good, I had just had my own diagnosis and surgery to remove a cancerous tumour, so I wasn’t really able to go anywhere and blow off stress. I didn’t want her having to reassure me, so I just bucked up. It was only after she died that the full span of my grief was released.

mazingerz88's avatar

You deal with it knowing that you are not going to help anybody if you are the kind to have a breakdown. It’s part of growing up I guess, when it finally dawns on you that there’s a chance you could ease the pain of a love one by simply showing to him that you can summon inner strength and peace when it’s most needed.

Sometimes, those who are sick and dying worry more about the family they are bound to leave than the present difficulty of their situation, so reassuring them that you will be fine after they are gone is the greatest expression of compassion you could ever extend.

marinelife's avatar

You can only go moment by moment.

Vunessuh's avatar

@mazingerz88 Thanks for your answer. To clarify, the question wasn’t really geared toward wondering what to say or how to act in front of the person who is sick. It is more so about how to take care of yourself when you have alone time and what to do with your sadness and grief when those feelings become overwhelming. How to release it, how to cope, etc. You still have to maintain your own health and you can do that privately so your own pain doesn’t become a burden for your loved one and therefore helps you to better take care of them.

wundayatta's avatar

A very close friend just passed away. Brain cancer. Ironic because he was a doctor who did all the right things. They knew there was nothing they could do about six months before the end. His wife and son took care of him, but they got the whole community involved, too. People were organized to bring food each day. Visitors were given time slots. That sort of thing.

In addition, they had other practices. They had a zen monk who was guiding them. He gave them a number of practices or meditations to do at various times. So when his wife would start feeling overwhelmed, he would point to the spot where they did the exercise, and essentially order her to do it then. It helped.

Sometimes, but not often, he would also get overwhelmed and talk about his fears, but for the most part, it was kind of he who comforted others instead of the other way around. They said he had a good death, and was open to the new experience. Not afraid.

I think it’s important for the community to be involved, but not in an overwhelming way. They have to take care of you, not the other way around. You have to let them care of you. That way you can be there for your mother. I think it’s also important for you to have some practice that will help you come to accept what is happening.

MilkyWay's avatar

My great grandmother died in 2009. Before that she used to live with us.
After a hip operation gone wrong, she was completely bed bound and in pain. We had to help give her a bath, take her to the washroom, that kind of stuff. It was painful to see her like that, but once you get into the whole routine, you’re able to block it out. I suppose it gets a tad bit easier to block it out with time, but the pains still there.
I didn’t really have anyone to talk to except herself, but of course, I couldn’t share my grief with her, she was already suffering through so much. But sometimes, giving her a random hug was enough for me. She didn’t ask why I was hugging her either, she was that understanding.
Sometimes, when she had to pay a visit to the hospital I used to think to myself “What if she doesn’t come back again? I don’t want her to go, even if she’s in that much pain.”
I guess that was pretty selfish of me.
When she did pass away though, I felt happy that she was at peace and her pain was over. Sad, but happy at the same time.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I didn’t block it out,nor did I want to.It is hard to see someone in pain and getting sicker every day but it is what it is and you haven’t much choice in the matter.I didn’t want to waste time trying to change something that couldn’t be changed.
In the case of my mother,she was a very strong,stoic person and did not complain,whine or bitch about anything.She kept her great sense of humor to the end and was able to die peacefully with the help of hospice.
She dealt with anything that came down on her with incredible dignity and grace.
She handled death,it didn’t handle her.
So having said that,she made mine and my family’s life “easier” I guess.She showed me how it’s done and I love her all the more for it.
I had my sister or brothers and friends to talk to if I needed that.Generally,it was for updates on my mom’s health.I also got the chance to thank my mom for all the things she did for me and to tell her how I felt about her.She understood exactly how much I loved her.
We all knew she was slowly dying.Nothing you can do about it except work on acceptance and try to make the best of the time you have left with that person.
We did exactly that.:)

YARNLADY's avatar

My experience was similar to @lucillelucillelucille when I had to attend a dying husband. I used to cry in the shower. Afterwards I moved in with my parents. I was pretty much a zombie for nearly a year, but I had a preteen son to take care of, so I had to just keep up.

ddude1116's avatar

I’ve grown up with my grandmother going into various stages of dementia. She lives in a nursing home, now, but for a long time we would take care of her at her house. My uncle has been living there for seven years now, I figure. Since I’ve always lived with it, I don’t really feel anything.. I don’t remember her much differently, so I just deal with it through my ignorance. She’s very happy, though, which is a complete blessing; she’s just a dear..

However, when my other grandmother, my father’s mother, was sick, it was entirely different. I was sheltered mostly, but I made sure to think that she was being well treated, and given the best of opportunities to be as comfortable as she could be.

Cruiser's avatar

Coping with really bad shit in your life…as selfish as it might seem is to take care of yourself first and foremost. Get rest…go for a walk or bike ride…sit by a body of water and skip stones! What has always worked the best for me is to just write….write down what you are feeling and either tear it up or tuck it away in a folder. You are extremely vulnerable in these situations and also never ever forget there are friends no matter how far away that feel this pain you are going through…let them shoulder part of the burden with you!

Inspired_2write's avatar

Knowing deep down that the person going through this sufferring is appreciative of you visiting as many do not visit .
Put yourself in there place…would you want to feel alone.
Some do want, to be alone while others need someone close by.
At least you can leave and find a peaceful positive place to recharge your batteries but this victum cannot.
Make sure that you don’t have burnout from giving too much of yourself.
You should have a backup person to visit too.
In that way you have emotional support for each other.
My Mother passed away and was just “skin and bones” when she died.
Even though she had Alzheimers , could not see, and her hearing dimished, I would hold her hand gently and she became aware that there was someone in the room who warmed her heart.
It gave her strength to feel the touch of another person who cared enough to get close to her, and that she was not always surrounded by Hospital ( busy ) staff.
It personalized the encounter, and I believe that she felt more loved by family.
She was 92 yrs old, and we could do nothing much more than keep her comfortable and we tried to be close by whenever our busy lives allowed us to be.

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