Often we talk of “emotional rollarcoasters” when trying to describe what it’s like to go through the grief process. But even I was unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster experienced while dealing with a loved one with a serious illness.
We talk about “anticipatory grief” in terms of the emotions you experience while dealing with a loved one with a terminal illness, but what if the loved one hasn’t been given a terminal prognosis? What if your loved one has been diagnosed with an illness and a prognosis hasn’t been given? What if treatment options don’t seem to be working and you see loved one being ravaged by the treatment? What if you see your loved one suffering from complications of the treatment? What if it seems that the cure is worse than the disease? What if your loved one and their doctor have a game plan, but no one else seems to know what that game plan is? What if you come from a large family and everyone has their own opinion about what is going on and what should be done? And so the ride begins.
Now you are on this ride and you have all of the above as factors in how you deal with this situation emotionally, but wait . . . we’re not done! What if your loved one is in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis, sometimes a daily basis? What if your loved one had to have emergency surgery to reduce symptoms of the disease or complications from the treatment? What if your loved one almost dies, due to hospital error, complications or a weakened condition? What if this happens repeatedly within a week’s time? What if during all of this activity you have several doctors on the “team” giving you their opinions on your loved one’s condition, diagnosis and prognosis – and they are all different! Well, heck – this is one crazy ride!
But wait – we’re still not done! What if you don’t live close to the hospital? What if you work a full-time job and can’t get to the hospital as often as you would like? What if you have family members doing most of the care and organizing and you can’t participate as much as you would like? What if you DO go down any spare time that you have, or you spend that time on the phone getting updates from your family members? How do you take care of your children? When do you go to the grocery store? When do you do laundry, vacuum, pay bills, mow the lawn? How do you take care of yourself – keep doctors appointments, get to the gym, keep a date with a friend – all without ticking off the other family members? Can we get off this ride yet?
Most people get off a rollercoaster and they feel dizzy and maybe a little upset to their stomach. After getting off this particular rollercoaster you might feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, intolerant and emotionally shut-down. When you read the above, it’s easy to see why you might feel this way, but when you’re going through the experience, it’s not so easy to figure it out. The important thing is to give yourself a break. In this case, you are definitely not to going to make everyone happy, so at least try to keep yourself emotionally healthy so that “when” you can be available for your loved one, you are atyour emotional best and can give all that you have in the care of your loved one. Do your best to meet each challenge as it comes and don’t think to far ahead about “problems” or “what ifs” that haven’t even come up yet. Deal with what’s on your plate – right in front of you – nothing more. This will ultimately help with the “ups and downs” of the emotional rollercoaster ride.
Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.
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