It’s not easy being sick and it’s not easy being around someone who’s seriously ill. I’ve sat on both sides of the table and neither is a picnic. It can come as quite a blow to discover that a loved one has been diagnosed with a life-threatening, or even terminal, disease. Oftentimes, the gears in our head become frozen. We don’t know what to think or what to feel. Or how to act. So we simply react.
Reactions are usually impulsive in nature. Not a lot of thought goes into them, as they often serve as some sort of coping mechanism. While it is important to take action, it is also equally as important to take a moment to contemplate and reflect on what’s going on internally. That is first and foremost.
You can still be there for someone even if you’re an emotional wreck. Sometimes admitting that you’re a mess and that you’re not sure how to deal with this is the best thing you can do. I think it’s important to let your loved one know how you honestly feel. Letting your guard down shows that you care.
However, being positive, for their sake as well as your own, is key. Plaster a smile on your face. Even if it’s painful. Even if you’re crying. Because ‘faking it until you make it’ actually helps. This also applies to those dealing with terminal illnesses.
Maybe this all sounds a bit contradictory, but this is not a black and white subject. What works one day, or even one minute, you may feel is inappropriate for the next. Trust your intuition. It will not lead you astray. But what does that mean? Essentially, it means that you just have to go with what feels right. If the person you love is dying, then don’t feel guilty if you need a little space to work things out. I’m not proposing that you abandon them; I’m just saying that as long as they know you care, they’ll understand.
Alternatively, people who are sick want to know that they have love and support. That they’re not alone. That they matter. They won’t always vocalize this because they secretly hope that you already understand. So be there for them in any way that you can. If, for whatever reason, you’re unable visit them, then call or write. The smallest gesture matters. Now is the time for frivolities and clichés. Don’t be afraid to get cheesy. Buy them flowers, teddy bears, a card, balloons, or anything else that comes to mind. Get creative and make them a gift. It will brighten both of your days. Depending on their affliction, plan a day out. If that’s not possible, plan a day in. Call ahead of time to make sure they’re available and physically up for it.
When you’re not ‘being there’ for this person, then you need to find someone (or something) to ‘be there’ for you. Even rocks need rocks. I suggest an outsider to the situation. This can be a friend or a therapist. There are help hotlines on the phone and internet support groups you can join. Of all the things you can do for yourself during this difficult time, I put the most emphasis on this. You’ve got to try to keep your batteries charged. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone about this, then write it down, or channel it into another creative endeavor. The last thing you should do is bottle it or try to run away from it.
Also, whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself. When my Dad was sick and dying of cancer, this is what I did. And I regret it. Isolating yourself only makes you feel worse. Pushing friends and family away isn’t going to help, even if you feel you can’t bear to be around them. Some time to be alone is perfectly acceptable, but too much alone time won’t do you any good. You’ll spend the entire time dwelling and being miserable, feeding a depression. So get out there and keep yourself busy.
This is not an exact science and I don’t think it ever will be. I know it’s hard. You can get through this. You will get through this. Life goes on; even without those we love the most. And remember… you are not alone!