A serious illness in the family places the whole family under tremendous strain.
If the relations between members of the family are close, the illness will often make then even more close-knit. In altering one’s value of life the disease may unite discordant spouses so that they achieve a new closeness.
But close relations may also become distance as a result of illness. A person’s fear of losing a near one may be so profound as to make him or her begin to be remote, so that the situation does not feel so hard.
Both the person who is ill and his or her near ones may need to protect one another from their own feelings. Everyone is equally entitled to grieve, to feelings and to work through them, both together and alone. The more openly it is possible to discuss difficult matters, the greater the possibilities for family members to support one another and to gain support from each other. Families may deal with matters among themselves or make use of family therapy or another outside resource.
If contacts with friends, relations and others outside the family are weak, expectations of support from family members may become to great and deteriorate into quarrels. It is therefore important to keep up contacts with people outside the family during difficult situations.
Advice for family members
- Support the member of your family who is ill as best you can: sometimes just your presence and nearness is enough.
- Maintain relations with those outside the family: relatives and friends need you support in recovering.
- Try to continue with activities and pastimes that you have previously drawn strength from.
- You will be better equipped to support an ill relative when you deal with your own fears, for instance by discussing them with someone outside the family.
Sources: ‘Guide for the relatives and friends of cancer patients’, and the ‘Survivors’ Guide’ produced by Cancer Patients in Finland (in Finnish and Swedish), a member organisation of the Cancer Organisations.