Caring for someone with a terminal illness

Impact of caring and terminal illness on family and friends

People have different ways of responding to difficult situations. When faced with the terminal diagnosis of a family member or relative, people’s different coping strategies could at times cause friction between the main carer/s and other family members. Carers who were faced with their relative’s deteriorating health on a daily basis felt frustrated when others put an optimistic spin on the situation. While keeping hopeful against the odds helped some people cope better, the majority of carers felt a need to be honest and accepting about the approaching death of their friend or relative.
People who became carers for a sick parent, child or other relative found that this was likely to take its toll on the relationship with their own partner. Focusing time and attention on the sick person meant that carers were less available for the needs of others and less patient than they might have been otherwise. Emma, who had already experienced marital difficulties before her mother developed Motor Neurone Disease, said that because she felt her husband wasn’t supportive her marriage did not survive her taking on the role of main carer.
 
Fiona’s husband worked away during the week, but because Fiona cared for her mother with wide-spread cancer, they no longer had much time to spend together at weekends. Talking nightly on the phone helped them to keep the relationship working.
For some families, the practical and emotional impact of sharing caring responsibilities brought hidden tensions and rivalries to the fore. However, coming together during difficult times had also strengthened the bonds between family members. Sarah’s brother got to know her family better when he prepared the funeral programme for her father together with her eldest daughter. Sue felt comforted that her father, who suffered from dementia, had frequent visits from his great-grandchildren, which he seemed to enjoy a lot.
A few carers with young children wondered whether it was the right thing for their children to visit their sick friend or relative, and how they might be affected by the experience. For David and his wife Fiona, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, it felt natural that their primary school age sons would visit their mother in the hospice. David thinks it was very important that they felt involved in what was happening. Simon also decided to involve his very young children as much as possible, which helped them to cope.
A couple of families experienced anxiety over whether their sick relative’s condition might be hereditary.

Last reviewed July 2014.

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