Somebody I know just told me that his wife was recently diagnosed with cancer… again. How can one cope with news like that?
It’s not easy. It’s never easy. And nothing can really help you forget the situation. But there are a few little tricks that might somehow soothe you or make you find some extra strength and there are some other things that you should try and avoid in order to not feel even worse.
Remember, this is not about your sick loved ones now, but about you.
8 steps to cope with very bad news are:
- Think up two or three positive thoughts or recall two happy or better yet, funny memories and keep them ready to tell your loved one if the moment arises. You have to think of them when you’re alone because life tends to get busy or overwhelming when near a sick person. Grab the opportunities to give them little gifts of happiness throughout the day. Have some stories, anecdotes or memories ready at all times. As a therapist, be ready to force a change of subject in the conversation when you feel that you and the patient are going in circles around the same old themes. That will act as a flush of fresh, invigorating breeze.
- Whenever you’re with your loved sick ones, focus all your attention on them and try not to think about your pain. It can never match theirs. And don’t let mental digressions divert you from your real chore which is keeping yourself strong enough to help the person you love. It’s easy to ask oneself “why us, why me?” It’s in fact, an unavoidable question. But it’s a question that has no answer and looking for one obsessively will not solve the problem and will deduct from your energy reserves. When that question (or similar ones) pop into your head, look at it squarely for a couple of seconds and then let your thoughts tell it to leave you alone. Turn your attention to more fruitful endeavors.
- Keep busy. Don’t sit around letting questions attack you. Don’t stay in bed if you’re awake doing nothing; grab a book or get up to bake some cookies. Anything is better than letting destructive or depressive thoughts and tortuous questions engulf you. One of my favorites is writing something for my loved ones when my mind doesn’t seem to find any peace. The mere act of sitting at the computer or holding the pen in my hand helps me focus and fight negative ideas. Another favorite one of mine is, of course, reading. Reading soothes my mind so much! It helps me run away from my reality for a little while and has proven to be a great way to reduce stress. But whatever you read must be of interest to you. Don’t try to take any book laying around in your house. Choose something that has meaning and you really want to know about.
- Meet up with friends who can support you too. Find moments to vent your anger and sadness away from your sick loved one but supported by friends or others who care for you. Let others share your pain and comfort you, too. Don’t play hero all day long; it’s exhausting and you need to save up your energy.
- If not with friends, try to vent your anger and distress by running, exercising, walking or practicing any sport you like or engaging in any manual activity of your choice. Doing something physical helps the mind focus. It’s ok to feel angry and frustrated, it’s only natural. And crying is also good. But no matter what you do, don’t let the anger and frustration accumulate inside you. Those two are very destructive forces that will only lead to more sadness. Feel them, face them and understand that what you are feeling is a natural reaction. Then vent away any unacceptable or excessive accumulations by doing something physical.
- Plan little actions for each day. Some of them you will undertake, others will remain just planned. Have things to do at all times: rent a movie, order a book, organize a small reunion with friends over drinks, decide what to cook for dinner… even if your days seem completely full and overfilled, still plan ahead. Planning daily things to do with or without the patient will give you a sense of normalcy that will help bear the hours. Some of those plans you can design together with your loved one: discuss the details, talk about the choices… as you would do under any other circumstances.
- There will be times when your mind and your soul will ask for quiet and peace, for silence and inactivity. Take a break. Give yourself some moments alone and don’t feel guilty for taking them. Let your thoughts and raw feelings rest a bit. But make sure those times don’t turn into self-punishment. If you feel that your mind is starting to go in circles around unanswerable questions again, put a stop to it. One thing is enjoying a quiet moment; something else is letting depression catch up with you.
- And finally, let your loved one know that you are there, that you are the same old you and that you’re together in this. Sometimes, when the pain is big, we withdraw from our loved ones because it’s too much to bear. Try not to do that. Sail the ride together. Let the love you share hold you together. It’s ok to show them that you are sad or even angry, as long as you can also show them that you are hopeful and that you still cherish these moments together. A happy moment treasured now is worth more than many, less meaningful others shared before.
Life is sometimes unbearably hard, you’re right. And we should never pretend it’s not. But it’s our task to look for the small, good things around us to help those who are sick. Use these little tips to help you go through your dark days.
Enjoy life, yes, even under these terrible circumstances, enjoy the good moments in life,
Jessica J. Lockhart – humanology