I am writing a series of posts to help you support a friend or family member living with serious illness. Today, I’m focusing on how to show respect, both to the person facing illness and to yourself as his or her caregiver or supportive friend, and on the wide range and depth of emotions surrounding illness and death.

Love and respect

It’s always important to appreciate and respect the rights of individuals. In crisis, we all respond differently, and that’s ok.

Everyone has the right to:

  • Put him/herself first. (Have respect for space and privacy. Constant wanting to “be in the know” can be overwhelming.)
  • Make some mistakes.
  • Have his or her own convictions and opinions.
  • Change his or her mind or decide on a different course of action.
  • Protest unfair treatment and criticism.

The common conflict

Many people with a serious disease feel a conflict between maintaining a positive attitude toward the disease and knowing they will have to accept that they have a serious disease.

Some people adopt a “fight it” attitude. Others prefer to avoid a win-lose approach, and think of the mind and body as one, like a team that works together to deal with life’s needs, day by day.

The presence of a terminal disease has the power to strengthen healthy family relationships, or to shatter already weakened ones. It can unpredictably bring out the best in some people and in others, awaken emotions they just can’t handle. Some people are uncomfortable discussing death or dislike witnessing emotional displays of grief.

The range of emotional reactions is wide. Just look at the list below.

  • Curiosity
  • Closeness and openness to others
  • Love
  • Hope
  • Disbelief
  • Loss
  • Anticipatory grief
  • Guilt
  • Erosion of trust
  • Denial
  • Responsibility
  • Persistence
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Jealousy
  • Annoyance
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Appreciation of the gift and value of life and of others

Are you facing serious disease, supporting someone with illness, or providing end-of-life care? Have you protected your rights or had them violated? What emotions stand out for you, or overwhelmed you?

I hope I can get you thinking, or start a conversation, or gift you a small gift in these posts. Please share your thoughts.