Helping Your Seriously Ill Loved One Through Difficult Emotions
As your loved one progresses through a serious illness, it’s only natural that he or she will face difficult emotions: fear, anger, sadness and much more. Yet not all people can express these emotions clearly. Perhaps your loved one is tearful, withdrawn, irritable or very worried. You may notice personality changes or feel that your loved one is distressed, but not know how to help. Below are some suggestions for how to connect and accompany your loved one through this difficult process.
How to Help
- Provide a calm presence. Just be with your loved one, hold his or her hand. You may try talking about what is bothering him or her. You could ask, “What about your illness is most scary?” “What about your illness is most difficult?” You don’t have to solve the problem, but you can make a big difference just by listening.
- Give your loved one a chance to voice his or her fears, regrets and worries. Ask why he or she feels anxious or sad. Listen openly and with compassion.
- Try reading to your loved one—stories, verses, poems or magazine articles.
- Consult with your hospice team about ways to ease your loved one’s anxiety or sadness. Perhaps your loved one is afraid of the course of the disease or the dying process. A conversation with hospice providers can provide reassuring information and a sense of knowing what to expect.
- Listen to soothing or fun music together—even sing if you feel like it.
- Provide a soothing touch. Hold his or her hand and offer to give a hand or foot rub.
- Encourage your loved one to breathe slowly and deeply. Remind him or her of your care and love.
- Talk about pleasant memories.
As death nears, terminal agitation may occur. Signs of terminal agitation may include behavioral changes, such as increased restlessness, fidgeting, picking at covers, angry outbursts, combativeness, trying to get out of bed, calling out, hallucinations, increased confusion and sleep disturbance. Consult with your hospice team if you observe signs of terminal agitation as medications and other interventions may be recommended to manage agitation and promote comfort.