Bad news

If a person you care for receives a serious diagnosis, it can feel like a gut punch—for everyone in the family. There is no way to sugarcoat such a reality. There are ways, however, to make the emotional journey less traumatic.

Grief AND joy

Even if your loved one has only months or weeks to live, laughter still happens. It’s not wrong or disrespectful to watch a funny movie or share silly memories. Your emotional roller coaster will include highs as well as lows. Celebrate joy when it’s at the forefront.

When is action needed?

After the initial diagnosis, encourage your loved one to pause before making big decisions. Even with cancer, waiting 2-3 weeks does not usually result in a worse outcome. Ask the doctor to be specific about urgency.

Common emotions

You may have heard of the “stages of grief.” It is not really a linear progression. Rather, for you and your family member, a variety of emotions may come and go, and come again. Here are some tips:

  • Anger. Blame, even “justified”—he smoked; she drank—does not reduce the person’s need for comfort and love. Leave anger and blame, including self-blame, at the door.
  • Denial. If your relative is minimizing the seriousness yet still moving forward with a plan, don’t push “a dose of reality.”

Depression. With an incurable illness, hope changes over time. First, hope may be for a cure. Later, hope may revolve around visits with loved ones. Eventually, it focuses on comfort. If the person you care for expresses an ongoing sense of hopelessness, he or she may be depressed. While that might seem “normal under the circumstances,” depression should be addressed. Talk with the doctor. The illness may not be curable, but the discomfort of depression may be eased with counseling or medication.