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To accompany a loved one in illness

Based on an article by Dr. Margarita Tarein, source:

The disease requires changes in the daily life and plans not only of the sick person, but also of his family and close people. Spouse, partner, child, brother, sister, friend, colleague or neighbor, they are a valuable support for this person. Sick people share how important it is for them to be accompanied and emotionally supported by their loved ones during the treatment process.

Many questions arise in connection with the disease and its consequences, to which there is no unequivocal answer:

How can we reduce his/her suffering?

How can we be as useful as possible to him/her and at the same time preserve the things that are important to us?

How can we make sure that the disease does not become the main focus of our daily life and our relationship with the patient?

In other words, the question is how, despite the circumstances, can life continue as fully as possible?

The appearance of the disease causes very strong emotions – sadness, despair, anxiety, anger and a sense of injustice, loss of a sense of security, predictability, etc. These painful feelings are completely normal and understandable, but they are difficult to manage, especially in the beginning. It takes time for a person to get used to all the changes that are happening. This is a long and difficult process. Making sense of and sharing emotions are the first steps to dealing with them. They need to be identified so that adequate resources can be mobilized to deal with them.

It is very likely that relatives will have to deal with fluctuations in the mood of the sick loved one. Physical suffering, changes, and limitations can make him irritable, withdrawn, and sometimes self-centered. These are normal reactions of sick people, which should not be taken “at face value”. Resentment and harsh words can cause anger and bitterness in loved ones. It is important that they try to understand that these conditions are not directed at them personally but are a natural consequence of the disease. This understanding can help relatives not to withdraw into the offense and not to hinder the dialogue with the patient.

Physical changes

Illness and treatment cause physical changes that can significantly alter a patient’s self-esteem – they may experience feelings of discomfort, self-doubt, and even shame. Maintaining a sense of self-worth and dignity is among the most important aspects of coping well with illness, and this is largely achieved through the attitude of loved ones towards the ill person. They serve him as a mirror, and it is essential for him, looking around in the eyes of others, to recognize himself as he is.

Redistribution of roles

Illness usually necessitates a change in the family organization. All family members, including children, to one degree or another, face daily changes of a domestic, organizational and financial nature that could cause tension. The redistribution of roles can lead the patient to lose his usual function in the family, which will have a very negative impact on his self-image and hence on relationships. Excessive care and attention to the patient can further discourage him. He may feel useless or overly dependent on others. In such situations, conflicts easily arise. Maintaining his usual position in the family, regardless of the physical changes that have occurred, is a relief not only for him, but also for those close to him.

The children

From an early age, children are sensitive to all the events that happen in their immediate environment – they perceive them, but do not understand them exactly. It is recommended that the child be informed about the illness of a close person (parent, grandmother, grandfather, or other person) with explanations adapted to his age. If nothing is mentioned in the family about what is happening, it is possible for the child to start feeling anxious and isolated, as well as to form his own, sometimes much more frightening ideas that he does not share. At first glance, it may seem that the child is not interested in the disease, but changes in his behavior appear, such as difficulties in school or kindergarten. Talking to the child not only gives him an explanation for what he feels and notices, but also restores his sense of security and gives him the opportunity to share his thoughts and concerns.

Limiting the scope of the disease

The disease tends to occupy a central place in the minds and relationships of those around the sick. The risk of this is that it overshadows all other aspects of life and communication and takes up residence where it might not be. No matter how difficult and oppressive the circumstances are sometimes, it remains the choice of the individual to try as much as possible to compensate and limit its encroachments – to accept what is missing and to look for what is helpful and valuable.

Because the fight against the disease in its essence is the fight to preserve the joy of living.

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