Category Archives: 2018 A to Z Challenge


Understand Death

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is K for How Kids Understand Death. This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping your Child Cope with Your Cancer.

In a recent post, we looked at Grief in Children from the viewpoint that grieving begins with a loss. It’s important to understand death isn’t the only thing reason we grieve. Unfortunately, for many families, the cancer journey does end in death. What you see in your child as they cope with death will depend largely on their age and how they understand death.

Infants, up to 2 years old

Infants won’t understand death at all, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by it. They know that the parent they loved is no longer there. You may even see an older infant looking for their “missing” parent. Even more than the absence of their parent, infants are affected by the sadness of their surviving parent.

What you can expect to see from your child as they cope with death as an infant up to 2 years old:

  • increased crying
  • irritability
  • changes in sleeping habits.
  • changes in eating habits

Preschool-age children (3 to 6 years)

Children ages 3-6 are curious about death, but they don’t understand death as a permanent condition. It’s common for them to think that someone who’s died is in a state similar to sleep. They may believe it’s reversible and that their parent will wake up. They might even think that if they’re good enough, they can make the person who died come back.

Children tend to center the death (like everything else) on themselves. If they have ever wished their parent would go away or had been “bad,” they may feel guilty and responsible for their parent’s death. It’s very difficult for children this age to put their feelings into words.

As you would expect, children who lose a parent are apt to worry about who will take care of them. They may question whether their other family members are safe, or if one day, they too will die, leaving the child behind. And, like children younger than them, they’re very affected by the sadness of surviving family members.

What you can expect to see from your child as they cope with death as a preschooler:

  • symptoms of regression
  • bed-wetting
  • thumb-sucking
  • acting out in aggression
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping

Our Story

I met, fell in love with, and married Dan when my daughters were young. before that, I was married to my children’s biological father. He left us, After that, for weeks, one of my daughters kept saying he had been shot. No matter what I said to try to convince her otherwise, she thought he had died. I took them to our pastor who began to talk to them and asked them questions. He asked her why she thought that he was dead. She said, “It’s like in Narnia. The dad went to war and was shot. The children were sad and the mom cried all the time.” My daughters didn’t understand what divorce was but they had seen in a movie, something that resonated with how they were feeling. They drew their own conclusions from that. This taught me a big lesson about children’s perceptions. This taught me a big lesson about children’s perceptions.

Be aware that your young child may not understand death accurately. Asking gentle questions can be very illuminating.

School-age children (6 to 12 years)

By the time your child reaches the ages of 6-12, they understand death is final. As they get older, they’ll understand death is unavoidable and happens to everyone at some point. Death itself is often perceived by children this age, symbolically, such as a skeleton, the Grim Reaper, or a more religious manifestation, such as an angel or spirit. Children this age will still struggle to talk about their feelings.

They will experience many emotions including guilt and shame, since they may worry that they’re to blame for their loved one’s death. They may also feel anger and sadness. And, most likely, they’ll experience anxiety and fear about their future and even their own death. They’re still likely to worry about who will take care of them. This can bring about feelings of insecurity, clingy behavior.

Children this age are often interested in the specific details of death and what happens to the body after death. This can even be seen when a pet dies. Far from being gruesome, the child may want to see the dead pet and know more clearly what has happened. While adults may feel uncomfortable with this, it’s quite natural, and a part of coming to terms with the death. For this reason, you shouldn’t be overly concerned if the child wants to see or touch their deceased parent.

What you can expect to see from your child as they cope with death as a school-aged child, 6-12 years old:

  • symptoms that their younger counterparts experience
  • trouble in school
  • withdrawal from friends and/or family

Our Story

When our kids were younger, they had a pet betta fish. After about 6 months, Huckleberry did what all fish eventually do, and died. I was concerned that it would upset the kids, so I tossed the fish into the brush outside of our home.

Our daughter became frantic at seeing the empty fish bowl. She cried and cried, demanding to see her little Huckleberry. Finally, I relented and told her where he was. She rushed out in her bare feet, searching through the leaves and branches. Finally, she found him. She looked at him for a few minutes in silence and then returned as calm as could be. She wiped her eyes and returned to playing.

Teenagers (13 to 18 years)

While most teenagers understand death in like adults do, when it comes to death, they don’t behave like an adult. They’ll experience a range of emotions, and don’t have the depth of experience or the coping skills needed to handle them. Teens don’t tend to ask for help. Instead, you’ll need to recognize that they’re struggling.

Signs to watch for in your child as they cope with death as a teenager, include:

  • Lashing out at family members or friends.
  • Reckless and/or impulsive behavior
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Promiscuity.
  • Questioning God, their faith, and/or their understanding of the world
  • Withdrawing from the family to be alone
  • Spending more time with friends (not always a bad thing, but can be an indicator that they are having difficulty dealing with what’s happening)

Because they want to feel independent, teens sometimes want to emotionally and physically separate from their family. They may not be receptive to support from adult family members. It can be helpful to enlist the help of other adults who can help identify when a problem is occurring. Communicate regularly with their teachers, coaches, and pastors who can help during this time.

College Age

Despite being considered legal adults, college-aged children are still developing emotionally. Their brain isn’t fully formed until they are 25 years old. To make matters even more complicated, these are the years when many of them are in college or starting their career. Whether they live on campus, commute, or have decided to work full time, they have a lot that they are juggling.

Thankfully, many colleges have academic and crisis counselors on staff. Students should contact them early on to see what options they have regarding their classes, should a crisis such as the death of a parent, arise. Some schools even offer tuition insurance for a medical crisis. Check with the school to find out details, including any potential issues with their scholarships. Make sure any insurance you purchase will cover the any needed time off from school for your child as they cope with death.

Our daughter, Summer

Summer and Dan August 2016
Photo by Jim Bovin

Our oldest daughter, Summer had already completed 2 years of college by the time she was 18 through a

program the State of Minnesota has known as Post Secondary Options (PSEO). She then transferred to the University of St. Thomas where she would get her 4-year degree.

We knew that during her time there, it was likely her dad would die. How would she cope with that? It’s one thing to deal with the pressures of college when you have a sick parent. It’s a whole other matter to try to focus on an intensive time of studies when your parent dies.

Summer spoke with her academic counselor as well as the student counselor who deals with issues such as grief. She began to assemble her support system at school.

School can be a welcome escape for your child as they cope with death. Or, it can add to the overwhelming feelings they may be experiencing. How your child deals with the loss of a parent will be as individual as he or she is.

Helping your child cope with and understand death

It’s common for surviving parents, family members and friends to worry about how their grief will affect the kids. They worry that their children will be damaged by their own intense feelings about the loss. Because of this, some adults will try to hide their emotions while around children. This is unnecessary and can be harmful in the long run—for everyone.

Children look for cues from adults for how to react to what’s happening around them. There’s nothing wrong with crying or other expressions of intense feelings after a loved one’s death. These are normal expressions of how people feel when they lose someone important to them.

The way you, and others, react to your child as they cope with death through the mourning process, will send a message to them, whether you intend to or not. For example. Telling a child not to cry, can cause them to feel like their feelings are wrong. This denies them the opportunity to work through the variety of emotions they are feeling, related to the loss.

Don’t try to hide your feelings

If family members and friends try too hard to hide their feelings, the child may think it’s wrong to be open about their own feelings. Instead of being able to share their feelings and get the needed support, the child keeps it inside and doubts the validity of their feelings.

Genuine feelings of sadness, tears, and anger are normal reactions for anyone who’s grieving. While acting hysterical may frighten a child, as long as their security needs are being met, seeing your grief being expressed won’t damage them.

In the same way, telling them that they should be more upset can cause him or her to feel guilty. It implies they are a bad person for not responding to the loss “appropriately.” Sometimes, outward displays of grief are delayed, or even suppressed due to mixed signals they’ve gotten in the past about whether or not it’s okay to cry. It’s important that your children understand death is a painful loss and it’s okay to respond to it in a way that feels authentic.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

Originally posted 2018-04-12 07:00:34.


Joyful

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is J for Joyful Despite Cancer.

How can you feel joyful…

…when a loved one has cancer? When we first learned that Dan had cancer, we were stunned. How could this happen? How could my husband of 3 years, be given a death sentence? I felt devastated, even angry. We went through all those classic stages of grief. I was even disappointed in God. It seemed so unfair. Dan and I had a dream marriage. He had just adopted our 3 daughters. We went on annual mission trips and had our family routines. Why us? Why now? I felt many different emotions. Joyful wasn’t one of them.

In order to stage my husband’s cancer, the doctor ordered a PET scan. While Dan was having the scan, I spent a lot of time in prayer. Then, I decided to call a former pastor of ours. He and his wife moved out of state a year earlier, so we got caught up on what was happening in our lives. He could tell that I was really struggling with Dan’s diagnosis. So, he gave me the best advice that I may have ever gotten. He said,

“Don’t think about what you could lose. Think about what you have.”

Those words changed my outlook and helped me become joyful again, despite Dan’s cancer.

Summer loves it when Dan rubs her feet. Image by Jim Bovine

Our life as a family…

…has always had a beautiful rhythm to it. We have routines and traditions that define us:

  • books that we’ve read as a family
  • praying together
  • going to church together
  • watching a TV series as a family
  • family trips
  • walks/hiking
  • Dan making our coffee every morning and filling the gas tank so that I never need to.
  • get-togethers with Dan’s parents and siblings
  • quiet time in the living room

Those things help make this life joyful. When things are difficult, we hold even tighter to these things, remembering how precious they are. We live in awe of God’s grace. We soak it all in with gratitude.

July 2016

Dan had a scan result that pushed us back into reality. It looked like his cancer was progressing again. I remember being in the car, crying, as I thought of what could lie ahead; all the difficult things that Dan would go through. And, in the end, he would die.

I thought about that, about living without him. Then, I thought about what that would mean for him. He would be in the presence of Jesus. I pondered that for quite a while and it gave me such joy. Dan loves Jesus more than anyone and anything. As much as he loves me and the kids, he loves Jesus even more. To be in His presence would be the most wonderful experience he could have. That gave me the strength to face whatever would come our way.

The following month, for reasons that to this day, baffle Dan’s doctors, his cancer retreated and has stayed at bay ever since. He recently had metastases in his spine, but that too has been healing.

October 2012

When doctors told Dan, four and a half years ago, that he had stage IV lung cancer, we could have stopped living. We could have thrown in the towel, but instead, we chose to live a joyful life in spite of cancer.

If you are facing something that seems insurmountable, don’t give up hope. Instead, think about what you have and trust God with it. Then live your life with joy,

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

 

Originally posted 2018-04-11 07:00:08.


The ideal you

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is I for the Ideal You vs. the Real You.

One aspect of caregiver guilt that I want to look at more in-depth, is the idea of the ideal you versus the imperfect, real you. The ideal you taunts the real you whenever you don’t measure up.

Not doing “enough?”

Often we have expectations of ourselves that no one could reasonably meet. These unrealistic expectations set you up for disappointment and frustration. Maybe the ideal you is whispering into your ear that you’re not doing enough for your loved one, or, that your caregiving responsibilities are taking away time from your spouse, children or even friends. You might see the way coworkers or friends are living and compare. Comparison breeds envy or pride. Neither of these is based in reality.

The best thing you can do is to realign your goals with the reality you are living. See where you can reduce your responsibilities, and how you can delegate some of the rest. Lower your standards from ideal to real. Everyone—the patient you care for, family members, and you, must lower your standards a little bit and do the best you can. Aim for a B+ in some areas of your life rather than an across-the-board A+.

When guilt nags, ask yourself what’s triggering it:

  • A rigid “I ought to do this. I ought to do that?”
  • An unrealistic belief about your abilities? Even the ideal you doesn’t have superpowers. Try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of beating yourself up over it.
  • Guilt for spending time away from your loved one. You finally get up the courage to go out and do something for yourself. Rather than enjoying the break, you feel guilty for having a good time while your loved one is ill.

 

Guilt loves impossible standards set by the ideal you.

The real you isn’t perfect—neither is anyone else. No caregiver anticipates every problem that can arise. Tempers flare. Appliances break. Germs sneak in. Visitors show up at the worst time! Checks bounce. Life happens. Because of this, no matter how much you love the person, or how much you feel you “owe” him or her, know that you are the real you—not the ideal you. Set your expectations with that in mind and everyone will be a lot happier.

ideal vs real

Musts and oughts

“I ought to visit more often. Twice a week isn’t enough.” This kind of thinking is a little more tricky. Sometimes, it is legitimate. More often, the ideal you just piles on the guilt without any merit. When you think in terms of musts and oughts, consider things as they really are. Are there friends and family who can pitch in and reduce your load?

You weren’t meant to do this alone.

It’s interesting that guilt often comes to call as soon as a caregiver’s load is lightened by getting help. The ideal you whispers that it’s weak to ask for or find assistance. Ask for help.

There isn’t enough of me to go around

So, you were living your life. Maybe you had a job, family obligations, maybe church activities, things you volunteered for. Then, bang! A loved one gets cancer and you must step up to the plate. You don’t feel equipped, but you love them so you’ll do it. At the same time, you try to keep up the other commitments you have in life. The ideal you spurs you on to perfection and the real you falls short every time. You feel exhausted. Anyone who’s been a mom has likely experienced this strain of guilt at some point. Whether a mom has one child or eight, she has enough love to go around. She does have to make changes in the way she runs her household, though.

Revisit and reinvent the “Ideal You”:

The real you will have to make the best choices based on the resources and knowledge you have at the time. You will be a more effective caregiver when you care for yourself first. Loved ones neither want nor expect selfless servants, worn and burned out because they never took a break or asked for help. When you care for yourself, you increase and improve your ability to be the caregiver your loved one needs. The true ideal you is someone resourceful; Someone who gives others the opportunity they’ve been looking for to help.

The true ideal you knows it’s wise to lighten your mental load by talking with a friend, a therapist, or a peer group. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Asking for help to run errands, make meals, and take care of chores around the house can close the gap between the real you and the ideal you. One you feel the peace that comes from delegating, you will find that the real you and the ideal you become one in the same.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-10 07:00:48.


Authentic

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is H is for Honesty: Your Authentic Response.

Let’s be Honest, Who Cares about HIPPA?

I was originally going to write about HIPPA for H. But, really, who wants to read about HIPPA.(1) Instead, I thought I would write about something that many caregivers(and patients) tell me they struggle with—Honesty. “Being authentic” might be more accurate. The dictionary defines authentic as “of undisputed origin; Genuine.” When someone says something hurtful, or just plain tacky, do our responses come from; our heart, or from a desire to not make waves with others?

In, “The New Etiquette: Real Manners for Real People in Real Situations: An A-to Z  Guide,” Marjabelle Young Stewart says that she’s convinced 50% of the people who say something tactless, regret it the moment the words leave their lips. The other 50% have no idea that what they said was tactless. I’m inclined to agree. I also agree with the author that we should usually let it slide, out of our own sense of kindness. However…

Caregivers often end up managing everyone else’s issues.

It’s important to recognize that there is an appropriate response to your situation. Often people accept tactless behavior because the situation is difficult and it’s hard to know what to say. It IS difficult, but that doesn’t excuse people from thinking before they speak. So I would like to pull the curtain aside and expose some of the most common things people say to patients and their family members, which are meant to be helpful but aren’t.  I share some of these remarks along with what you might be thinking, and some more appropriate things that your friend could have said. I also share something you can say to help them understand your authentic feelings while maintaining your friendship.

“I know just how you feel.”

Your authentic feelings might be, “No you don’t!”

Here’s why their statement is inappropriate: Everyone is different. Even if they’ve been in a similar situation, this comment can make you feel demeaned. What you really want is for someone to show some empathy.

A more appropriate response to your pain would be, “I can’t imagine what you are going through. I was so sorry to hear the news.”

What you can politely say to stay true to yourself: “I know that you want to comfort me right now, so please understand that my fears and emotions are unique. No one knows just how I feel.” If you trust them and are ready to talk, you can add, “Being able to share a bit of how I feel might be helpful, though.”

“How long does he/she have?”

Your authentic feelings might be, shock, and pain.

Here’s why their statement is inappropriate:  You are likely fighting some anxiety about your loved one’s prognosis, even if it’s good. Regardless of the expected prognosis, asking this is assumes the hopelessness of the situation.

A more appropriate response to your pain would be, allowing you to experience your own level of hope or lack of hope. They could say, “How are you doing with this?”

What you can politely say to stay true to yourself: “How long does any of us have? No one has a crystal ball. We are continuing to pray for healing and renewed strength.” Note: This might not be how you are feeling, so by all means, change it to reflect what is in your heart.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” “Think positive,” or “Don’t worry.”

Your authentic feelings might be, “You obviously have no understanding of what is at stake.”

Here’s why their statement is inappropriate: This situation usually happens quickly, rather than as a deep, meaningful conversation with a friend. This is someone giving you “preemptive encouragement.” They don’t wait to hear about how things are really going or what you’re feeling. Instead, they give you a dismissive, hit and run dose of, “cheer up!” with no investment on their part. While these phrases are often said to encourage the patient or caregiver, they instead belittle your fears and feelings. They can make you feel very alone.

A more appropriate response to your pain would be, “This must be difficult. Is there anything I can do to help you through this time?”

What you can politely say to stay true to yourself: “I appreciate that you are trying to cheer me up. After hearing what the doctor said, we are feeling quite shaken and need to make the appropriate plans for the future. I would appreciate your prayers for us as we move forward.”

“You just need to have faith.”

Your authentic feelings might be, very full of faith, and at the same time, afraid for your loved one. Men and women of great faith experience tragedy all the time.

Here’s why their statement is inappropriate: This is an especially painful accusation. They are insinuating that because you are struggling, you don’t have enough faith. Statements like this can place an undue burden on you and your family. If your loved one doesn’t get better, does that mean they (or you as their caregiver) have no faith? Phrases like this can imply that.

A more appropriate response to your pain would be: “I’m praying for you and your family to feel peace in the midst of this difficult time.”

What you can politely say to stay true to yourself: “My faith in God is strong, but I still have very real fears.”

“I know just what you should do…”

Your authentic feelings might be, “When you’re in my shoes, you can handle things that way. I’m choosing to do something else.”

Here’s why their statement is inappropriate: It undervalues the situation by slapping an “easy fix” on it. Even worse, some claimed “cures” have resulted in patients with otherwise treatable cancers relying on false promises rather than treatments that can save their life.  Also, you may find a wedge between you and your friend if the patient decides not to take their advice. This can happen if you feel like they are pushing an agenda, rather than being a friend.

A more appropriate response to your pain would be, to avoid making any suggestions regarding treatment choices. Those choices belong to the patient alone.

What you can politely say to stay true to yourself: “Thank you for your concern. My loved one and his/her doctor have put together a treatment plan that we feel very good about.”

“Don’t say that! They are coming out with new treatments every day.”

Your authentic feelings might be, “You asked!”

Here’s why their statement is inappropriate: This type of situation often arises when someone is trying to encourage you but doesn’t know how, so they are uncomfortable with the idea that things might not work out. On top of that, they are ignorant of the reality that cancer patients face. Their intention is good, but it stings, especially if you are running out of options for treatments.

A more appropriate response to your pain would be, “I’m so sorry to hear that. What are you thinking of doing?” Open-ended questions are wonderful because they allow you to lead the conversation where you are comfortable going.

What you can politely say to stay true to yourself: “We check the trial website on a regular basis. There is nothing planned for release that treats his/her type of cancer for another year or two. That’s a long time to wait when you have terminal cancer.”

Authentic

They Don’t Mean Any Harm

Patients and caregivers often remind themselves of this as they lick their wounds. Megan Devine, author of “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand,” recently wrote a commentary entitled, “Stay Strong,’ And Other Useless Drivel We Tell the Grieving,” that got a bit of backlash. About 90% of the commenters were positive and grateful for her words. It so happens that they tended to be people in grief. The other 10% (non-grievers) weren’t so pleased. “…from those outside others’ pain I hear: “We’re only trying to help! Why are you so negative?” (2)

Why so Negative?

When I’ve brought this issue up in the past, the results were mixed. People who truly care began to worry that they weren’t saying the right things to their loved ones. My concern is that these caring and kind people may hesitate to say anything at all, out of fear that they might make things worse.

The people who are actually saying/doing hurtful things often don’t care enough to change. I often get the impression that they haven’t read anything I’ve written because if they had, they wouldn’t say such things.

My rule of thumb

How you can know if you are saying and doing the right things: If you are worried enough that you would change what you’re doing if you thought it was being received in a way that is hurtful, you are just fine. You CARE. That’s the important thing. When you care like that, you are sensitive to the feelings of others. The things you say come from a place of authentic concern. It’s the people who are so sure they are in the right that they don’t care what others feel or think that are the problem.

Stay Authentic

I hope that through these examples you can see that tactless behavior and thoughtless words of others shouldn’t be normalized and excused. Instead, you can be authentic and share politely how you feel. Hopefully, when you do, the person who said something inappropriate can learn from their mistake and be more sensitive to others in the future.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. By the way, if you really have a burning desire to learn about HIPPA, just ask me for a copy of the post and I will send it to you, via email.
  2. Refuge in Grief Newsletter 3/10/2018

Originally posted 2018-04-09 07:00:40.


HIPPA

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is H for Understanding HIPPA.

Before you or your loved one ever get to see a doctor before they’ll even bring you back to an appointment room, the receptionist is going to slide a bunch of forms across the desk and ask you to sign. Some of them are forms that record your health history. Among these is a form about who the clinic can talk to about your personal information. This is called HIPPA.

Sign Here Please

HIPPA is the law that protects patient privacy. Unless a patient signs these forms and gives permission for the doctor to tell you anything about the patient’s health, they can’t tell you anything. To understand why your loved one’s doctor’s office may sometimes get a little touchy about this, it’s important to understand HIPPA.

Why HIPPA Matters

Health care providers can’t share a patient’s information with anyone without permission from the patient. Not their insurance company, another health care provider, employer, neighbor, kids or spouse—no one. That’s why they make you sign a bunch of paperwork every year, giving them permission to share information with your insurance company so that your bills can get paid.

If your loved one wants you, as their caregiver, to be able to talk to their doctor about your health care (and they should) they will need to give written permission.HIPPA

What is HIPPA, anyway?

HIPPA is an acronym that stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPPA established a generally accepted set of security standards or requirements for protecting health information which didn’t exist prior to 1996 in the healthcare industry. This became even more important as technology evolved and health care providers moved to computer-based systems.
While computers are an easy and efficient way to document, store and transmit your medical records, those records are also more vulnerable to a breach of privacy. While this was one of the things which drew attention to the importance of privacy in regards to our health care. HIPPA was enacted to protect patients’ healthcare information and privacy in any and all ways that information is shared, whether it be paper, digital, phone, or person to person.

This is a very brief overview of HIPPA. To learn more visit hhs.gov.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-09 07:00:11.


Caregiver Guilt

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is G for Guilt Caregivers Feel.

Are you blaming yourself for things which are beyond your control? Most family caregivers feel some degree of guilt, regardless of how good a job they are doing caring for the responsibilities and relationships in their lives.

Caregivers often burden themselves with guilt.

Caregiver guilt is not only fruitless but caustic. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes that are human, making decisions that are unavoidable, and having faults that are imagined.
At a time when you need to be even stronger than you think you can be, you don’t need anyone knocking you down—including yourself!

Doing or saying the “wrong” thing.

I remember in the beginning, trying to balance hope and faith with what the doctors were saying about my husband’s prognosis. I was afraid of everything: What if Dan didn’t take what the doctors were saying seriously, and didn’t follow his treatment plan? Some people insinuated that trusting the doctors meant I didn’t have faith for him to be healed by God. Was my fear standing in the way of his healing?

Dysfunctional Relationships

Many of us deal, not only the potential loss of our loved ones but also with guilt because our relationship with them wasn’t what we wish it could have been. This intensifies our grief and our guilt.
Some rules of thumb about guilt: You can’t ignore this pesky emotion or will it away. Guilt simply is. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about feeling it.

There is good guilt and bad guilt.

Good guilt will prompt you to examine your behavior and make any needed changes. If you feel guilty, for example, because you were impatient with the patient you are caring for. The guilt is a reminder to try a little harder next time.

Unfortunately what eats most of us alive is bad guilt. There’s nothing constructive about bad guilt. Bad guilt pops up during circumstances that you can’t do anything about (your parent has to move into a hospice facility, for example). It can even show up when something happens that’s good for you, like hiring a home care nurse.

Caregiver guiltOughta-shoulda-coulda-woulda

For caregivers, this can sound like: “I just can’t put Dad in a nursing home. I should be able to care for him myself like Mom would’ve wanted.” Or, “Why didn’t I push him to go to the doctor sooner? Maybe we could’ve done something more if I had.” This kind of thinking is really common. It’s also not helpful. You can’t go back in time and change things. Even if you could, you might not be able to change any of this. The best thing you can do now is to live in the moment. What can you do, right now? That’s where your focus should be. Things (and feelings) are what they are; stewing in them wastes precious energy.

Don’t discount yourself

Selfless people often feel the most guilt because they work so hard for the benefit of others, even at a cost to themselves. When they finally get around to caring for their own needs, it feels like they’re doing something wrong. If you’ve ever experienced this, take it as a sign that you need to follow increase the amount of care you give yourself. Talk about these feelings of guilt with a friend you know you can trust to support you. Often, recognizing guilt for what it is, helps to drive the boogie man away.

Guilty feelings

You may discover some underlying feelings that have been lurking beneath the guilt. You may experience resentment toward the person you’re looking after. This is common and often is part of the grieving process. You are grieving the loss of things as they once were, and as you hoped they would be. This can result in feelings of anger and resentment. Even though you know that none of this is the fault of your loved one, you may struggle with these feelings. It’s a good idea to see a therapist who can help you work through these feelings, without making you feel more guilty than you already do, for having them. Putting these feelings into words may give you a new perspective.

Be gentle with yourself:

  • There’s no one way a caregiver should feel. Give yourself permission to have your feelings. Your feelings don’t control your actions (not if you don’t let them). Eventually, your guilt will subside.
  • Look for the cause of the guilt: Do you have an unmet need? Do you need to change your actions so that they align with your values?
  • Take action: Meet your needs. Needs are not bad or good; they just are. If you need some time alone, find someone to be with your loved one.

We will talk more about the biggest cause of caregiver guilt in the post, Ideal You vs. Real You.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-07 07:00:44.


Funeral Home

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is F for Funeral Home – First Visit.

Even though My husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer in October 2012, we didn’t visit a funeral home until 2018. We knew that we needed to at least get some information. We also needed to make some decisions. Dan hadn’t even decided on cremation vs. burial. I think there’s something about planning a funeral that you want to put off as long as possible. It’s such a mental block to hurdle.

My first look at the Funeral Biz

Before we ever went to the funeral home, I read a book called, Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?: Field Notes from a Funeral Director by Robert Webster. Despite its funny title, this wonderful book by a lifelong funeral director handled the subject matter with sensitivity and care. He has encountered some humorous situations during his career. He was able to interject into the book. Along with his experiences, he also shared his opinions and advice concerning working with a funeral home. He had some very strong opinions at times. I appreciated his candor and his wealth of experience.

One of Robert Webster’s opinions was that a small, family-owned funeral home is a far better choice than the large chains that have been swallowing them up over the years. These chains often promote the image of a family-run funeral home, but they are in fact, a massive operation that doesn’t deliver the same personal service you need at such an important time. Knowing this, we still went to the big guys first.

The Funeral Home Seminar

I read about these in the book. The large-chain funeral home invites you and about 20 other prospective customers. They sell preplanned funeral packages over a boxed lunch. We got the postcard in the mail, and the timing seemed right. We ate our sandwiches and chips surrounded by demo caskets and urns in a strip mall storefront. I had checked into the reviews on this chain. It seemed that no matter which actual funeral home location the reviewer used, no one had a lot of good to say about this chain. Still, we were willing to hear them out.

Pre-planning

They espoused the values of pre-planning a funeral. They were right. It makes life a whole lot easier on the loved ones you leave behind if you make your funeral plans in advance (and make payment arrangements). Much like a healthcare directive, having everything planned out ensures that others know your wishes. It also gives you a starting place for a conversation about your plans.

The seminar explained some of the ins and outs of making your funeral plans. They talked about funeral insurance as well as payment plans. One important thing to know is that if you pay one funeral home for services and later change your mind about who you want to hire, they need to give your plans and the payments you’ve made to the funeral home you ultimately decide to use. Never let a funeral home hold you hostage.

funeral Home

The Appointment

Later, we visited with the lady who sells these pre-planned funeral packages. We wanted to get an idea of options and prices. This was very difficult for me. I didn’t want to discuss anything related to Dan’s future death. I would have far rather have been planning my own home-going party. Still, this was important.

The Money

We hadn’t set aside anything for Dan’s funeral. Our budget is pretty tight. She suggested buying funeral insurance, but that didn’t make sense for us since Dan was unlikely to survive the minimum length of time for the insurance to pay out. We would be better off getting a private loan and paying it off later. It’s interesting to note, funeral homes want the money upfront for their services. Too many people have put Uncle Leo in the ground on credit and decided to default. What recourse does the funeral home have? They aren’t going to dig him up. If you are counting on a life insurance policy to cover the funeral, keep in mind that it won’t pay out immediately. They need a death certificate (which can take a month or two) and time to cut the check.

The Price List

It’s a good idea to visit a few funeral homes. Get price lists from each of them to compare the cost of services and products. They will vary from one funeral home to the next. One might give a much better deal on the caskets than the rest. Another might have less expensive funeral services.

Reputation

Really look into a funeral home’s reputation. After reading reviews I decided there was no way we would use the funeral home we visited. One even said that when they arrived to pick up her husband, they asked if there was someone who could help get him into the hearse. That is extremely unprofessional and not something you want to have happen when your loved one dies.

When someone you love has cancer, making arrangements for a funeral is something you need to do. Consider your options before you feel backed into a corner or pressured by raw emotions of grief and constraints of time. You will make more level-headed, better-informed decisions in advance.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciaton, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson

Originally posted 2018-04-06 07:00:09.


Exercise lowers stress

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is E is for Exercise Lowers Stress.

You may not be able to change the things in your life that are causing you so much stress, but you can do things to improve your ability to handle it. There are several ways that exercise lowers stress. Don’t worry. I’m not advocating that you beat yourself up at the gym every day, but regular exercise lowers stress and can become an enjoyable part of your life.

Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.
—Arnold Schwarzenegger

Physical Ways Exercise lowers stress

For starters, it improves sleep. A good night’s sleep is an important part of combating high-stress levels. Studies have shown that the less a person sleeps each night, the more stressed they feel. This becomes a cycle because people who are under a lot of stress have a harder time getting a good night’s sleep. This is where exercise comes into the picture. “People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.(1)” So, by exercising, you can improve the quality of your sleep. This, in turn, will lower your stress and improve your ability to cope with the stressful things that come up day to day.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Exercise reduces adrenaline and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones. It also stimulates the production of endorphins. These are chemicals in the brain that improve your mood and act as the body’s natural painkillers. They are also responsible for what is known as “runner’s high.” This is why you can feel good after a tough workout.

It keeps you healthy

Regular aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure and helps fight obesity. Having better overall health mean less time in the doctor’s office. You will have an improved immune system. The healthier you feel, the greater your ability to deal with stressful things that happen.

Exercise increases your endurance so you can keep up with the pace of caregiving. You will have more energy to get the things done that you need to every day. As your to-do list shrinks, you will have less hanging over your head. You’ll feel less stressed.

There are mental ways exercise lowers stress

With regular physical activity, over time, you become stronger and more disciplined. Toned muscles and improved confidence can even result in better posture. All of this contributes to a better self-image.

Exercise also gives you an opportunity to get away from the stress of caregiving for an hour. Exercising using large muscle groups in a rhythmic fashion, such as walking or rowing, is also known as muscular meditation. You can get lost in the tranquility of it, renewing your mind. It is a wonderful time to pray and think creatively. More problems would be solved if people took more walks.

Finding the time and energy to exercise

As a caregiver, your time is valuable. It may seem difficult to integrate exercise into your lifestyle. There are some things that you can do to add extra activity to your current schedule.

  • Exercise reduced stressInstead of looking for the parking spot nearest to the door, park further away giving you an extra amount of steps each day.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible. Even in your own home. You can go up and down your stairs to your favorite song. Do this a couple times each day to add an aerobic boost to your routine.
  • If the weather is nice, take a walk in your neighborhood a couple of times a day. You not only get physical activity, but the fresh air will lift your mood as well.
  • If you want more of a challenge but time and convenience are issues, try a DVD. There are many types of exercise routines you can try, walking, Qi Gong, kickboxing, stretches, aerobics, and more. You can even find these on streaming sites.
  • If you are moving from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one, you may want to start out slow. You can move to more challenging activities by either increasing the length of time you exercise or by looking for activities that use different muscles. You might alternate aerobic exercises with strength building ones.

However you integrate exercise into your lifestyle, you will find that exercise lowers stress in many ways. You’ll be glad you did it.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

(1) The Sleep Foundation,Study: Physical Activity Impacts Overall Quality of Sleep; https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/study-physical-activity-impacts-overall-quality-sleep]

Originally posted 2018-04-05 07:00:15.


Depression

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is D for Depression in Caregivers.

When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, all of my attention and energy was focused on finding out as much as we could about his disease and the potential treatments. With each new treatment, we adjusted to different side effects. We tried to help our daughters through the roller coaster of emotions they were experiencing. We dealt with the reactions of our family and friends. All of this kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to think about how I was doing. Then one day, caregiver depression set in.

Different Kinds of Depression

I’d felt the weight of depression a couple of times prior to that. Once was what they call “situational depression.” I was going through a massive life change which included financial insecurity and not knowing what the future held, or even where I would live. I also experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my second daughter,  She had some undiagnosed health problems which caused her to cry non-stop unless she was nursing. This lasted for more than a year. During that time I got very little sleep and became exhausted. Finally, when she was 2, she had a surgery which changed everything.

Recognizing the Problem

So, when I began to experience symptoms of depression, several months into my husband’s cancer battle, I recognized them immediately. It felt like a combination of situational depression (after all my husband did have cancer), and exhaustion and hopelessness, much like I felt during my daughter’s first couple years of life. This was made worse by the serious, life-threatening illness of another family member. The pressure I felt was unbearable. Many days I was afraid to get out of bed, for fear of what would happen that day.

Seeking help

I felt a desperation along with the depression. I tried to seek help from our cancer center. I wanted to talk to someone specifically about the stress related to my husband’s cancer. In my situation, I didn’t need medication, but I did need some serious support. I needed to talk to someone outside of the situation. At the time, the cancer center didn’t have anyone who worked with caregivers. They gave me the phone numbers of some recommended therapists, but none of them were accepting new patients.

depression

A Therapist in Clinic

After a few weeks of limping through, I made an appointment with a therapist at a nearby in-network clinic. There was a 3-week wait for the soonest opening. By the time the day of the appointment arrived, I’d already applied some emotional band-aids and no longer felt the level of stress I had felt when I made the appointment. I tried to see the therapist monthly, but we just didn’t “click.”

So, What Helped?

To be honest, my husband’s health improving, and our family member’s health stabilizing, were the 2 things that helped the most. The pressure was alleviated. That’s not very encouraging news. What is encouraging is that I learned some things since then to help prevent full-blown depression in the future.

Other Caregivers

I found a group of cancer caregivers called Jack’s Caregiver Coalition that meets monthly to talk about what’s happening in their lives. Because it’s just for caregivers, we can be completely open and honest. We can talk about the thing that’s most pressing on our minds, or we can just listen. There’s something encouraging about knowing there are people out there that get what you’re going through. Even better, you can encourage someone else.

Support

I have a couple of people in my life who I can get together with to talk and to pray with. These are people who go the extra mile and want to be there to help if I start to sink under the pressure of it all. It’s important to think about who you can count on during this time to support your needs. Often people are there for the patient but don’t realize the extent of what caregivers go through. Finding a few friends who are there for you is important.

Balancing Your Schedule

I have things on my schedule that get me out of the house when I need a break. I’ve also learned that sometimes you need to drop all obligations, even if they are things you enjoy doing. Finding the balance between the two is important. Sometimes it may take a bit of trial and error. You are the only person who knows where you need to be on the scale. I tend to become easily overwhelmed under pressure. So, I do better when I don’t have actual obligations and yet have the ability to take a break and go out for coffee when the opportunity arises. When my husband is sick, I don’t feel comfortable leaving him. Some people need to get out to just breathe a while. We are all wired differently. This is when you need to advocate for yourself.

Find professional help BEFORE you need it

Waiting until you feel desperate isn’t a good idea. You may need to try a few therapists before you find one you feel comfortable with. Shop around. Let the therapist know what you are dealing with. Find out how hard it is to get a last minute appointment if something comes up and you need to talk to someone right away. If they don’t seem like a good fit, ask for a recommendation. They are professional and won’t take it personally. They may know of someone who is just right for you.

Clinical depression

If you are dealing with clinical depression that won’t get better with time and talk, you may need medication. In the past, stigma was attached to mental illness and its treatment. Mental illness isn’t a moral issue. It’s a health issue. Just like people with diabetes need medication, people suffering from depression or any other mental illness shouldn’t feel ashamed of seeking the treatment they so urgently need.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-04 07:00:04.


Critical Family Members

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is C for Critical Family Members.

I am fortunate to have a close family who is very supportive, but critical family members are a common source of stress for caregivers.

Critical Family Members

As a caregiver, you are likely stressed and at times feel underappreciated and unsupported. You may also be dealing with caregiver guilt. Having critical, family members can be especially difficult. What can you do when someone disrespects, discounts or just plain aggravates you?

Don’t respond immediately

Your gut reaction will likely only add fuel to the fire. Instead, consider what was said. Was there any truth to it? Often the most hurtful things have an ounce of truth in them. Check your pride at the door.

Then, consider the source. It’s often nothing personal. They might be insecure, so they criticize others as a way of feeling better about themselves. Does these critical family members have a reputation as someone who loves a quarrel? Do they start an argument with everyone? Then that’s just his or her way. So, even though it’s irritating, don’t take it to heart. Think about the fact that they are probably pretty lonely since people avoid them. That will help you see them in a more sympathetic light.

The Direct Approach

Rather than waiting for things to get even more uncomfortable, talk to critical family members about their concerns. This is best done privately so that they don’t get defensive and/or put a false face on things. It’s important to approach this from a place of empathy, rather than confrontation. Make it your goal to find out what their concern is. Think about what they must be going through in this cancer journey, as well. Hopefully, you will be able to share your feelings with them, too. Who knows, you may just walk away from the table as friends.

Listen with EmpathyCritical Family Members

This is especially important to do if the criticism is delivered in a respectful way. No one is perfect, including you. Maybe you can learn something by hearing your family members out. Perhaps you will gain new insight into what they are going through. This will require empathy. Consider the fact that most criticism is born out of fear. What does this family member fear? Even if your mother-in-law is difficult to deal with, in general, her son’s cancer diagnosis might make her act more critical or hostile. She might be afraid of losing her son and of being pushed out of the remaining time he has left as well as the decision-making process. There may not even be any basis for these feelings, but they are still very real to her. By becoming more understanding of these things, you may not change the behavior of the family member, but you can reduce the negative impact it has on you. You can begin to be more sensitive to the things family members are feeling at this time.

What if they don’t sound respectful?

Then, it’s important to hear the words that they are saying? We often become very sensitive to the way people say things. Sometimes we come to expect that someone is critical of us when they aren’t. Try giving someone the benefit of the doubt by listening to the words they say rather than for any underlying tone. “Tone” is highly subjective and easily misinterpreted. The next time you think your cousin is being sarcastic when she says, “I love your new curtains,” say, “Thank you,” with a smile and leave it at that. This becomes even more important when it comes to matters of caregiving. You may need to politely respond while trying your best not to let things escalate. Let comments made by critical family members run off of you without sticking like water off a duck’s back. Life is too short to stew in the stuff others toss at you. It’s not worth it. Still, there is no denying that words can really hurt.

Walk away

When all else fails, avoid critical family members. This is especially easy to pull off when you are at a large gathering, but not so easy when they start calling, or worse—start calling everyone else to try to turn them against you. If you haven’t already, this is the point at which it is imperative that the patient speaks their mind. There should be no doubt in family members’ minds as to the patient’s approval of the way you are doing as his or her caregiver. The sooner it is cleared up the better. If the patient becomes too ill to deal with this, you are on your own. That’s not a good position to find yourself in.

Note:

Always make sure the patient has a health care directive and has shared its contents with the rest of the family. Make sure it is notarized and on file with the patient’s health care provider in case the patient is ever unable to communicate their needs and there a conflict over medical decisions. At that point, if you are the proxy, it will be up to you to ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored.

It’s stressful when a loved one has cancer. It’s common for family members to at times disagree with one another. Thankfully, it rarely becomes a serious issue that can’t be worked out by sitting down for a heart to heart.

Resources

I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-04-03 07:00:12.

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