Coping Mechanisms of Family Members of Ailing Patients

When you find out that a member of your family is suffering from a terminal illness, it turns out to be a devastating situation. Many of us don’t know how to react, what to say to each other or the patient or, what to do next. We wish we could just pretend like nothing has changed from yesterday, and behave normally. The exact same thing happened to Ram when he was told that his mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. A taxi driver by profession, he was leading a simple and happy life with his mother. He has much love for her but communication has always been a slight issue between them.

The disease progressed from bad to worse over a period of time and his mother is now in the compassionate care of Karunashraya, Bangalore Hospice Trust. They offer free palliative care to advanced stage cancer patients. He, as a family member of the patient being admitted to the centre, was involved in the admission process which helped with:

  • making him aware of the characteristics of the disease & its impact on the patient
  • communicating available options at the care centre for the patient
  • making available the option of attending counselling sessions as and when deemed fit, keeping the patient’s condition in mind

There is no way that we can imagine getting through a situation where a family member is terminally ill, without a heads up on how soon to expect death. However, this is not an area of focus at Karunashraya where the doctors solely aim to improve the quality of life of advanced stage cancer patients and their family members, no matter how many days a patient might be estimated to live for. The staff actively listens to the patient and his dependents and offers support in a manner that is helpful in controlling the emotional situation in hand. It is but evident that for Ram, the idea of caring for his beloved mother who might pass on soon, is disconcerting and scary. Many of us would’ve rarely encountered that kind of a situation before. All our skills and prowess developed over the years might suddenly seem like they count for nothing.

All of the above might be true. However, there is no need to feel like all hope is lost. There are very many families that handle such predicaments fairly well. Their love for the ailing person invokes a desire to become strong and keep the patient happy in his/her last days. However, this is a very challenging phase. Palliative care centres are equipped to hand hold such family members through the entire process by providing psychological and spiritual support. Karunashraya has expert counsellors who help people in need, in confidence and suggest customized ideas to tackling problems.

Coping Mechanisms that family members of ailing patients could adopt:

When even the slightest of setbacks or problems at work or with friends cause emotional outbursts, it is but common to expect that repercussions of such events take the form of psychological manifestations. Following are some means by which these family members are advised on coping with their situations to help segregate the negatives from positives and focus on the positives.

  1. We side with the fact that communication is the key to resolving problems. This saying holds good in this scenario as well. Many family members talk to each other and confide in each other or in some confidantes, to feel lighter. Ram often talks to the doctors at Karunashraya who have advised him on improving his communication with his mother. She is worried that he won’t marry and will be left all alone when she is no more. He on the other hand does not clearly tell the doctors whether there is somebody and whether he even wants it or not. The doctors advised him to ponder over these aspects and communicate the same to his mother in a manner that will give her confidence that he will be alright.
  2. Another approach is suggested by doctors wherein they involve patients as well as their family members in certain activities that distract them from their pain and uncertainty of what the future holds. This at least causes temporary distraction.
  3. Many of us have faith in god or some form of divine intelligence. There are spiritual groups that bring together people from the same faith and take them through prayers and spiritual discussions that aim at health appraisal. It helps to keep ourselves connected to that faith through worship at a holy place or just spending a few minutes everyday, on prayers. Spiritual growth and connection with oneself makes for good grounding and maintenance of favourable mental health. You cannot give until you have! Counsellors at Karunashraya provide aid in this direction.Ram’s mother wanted to visit Tirupathi as she is an ardent follower of Lord Vishnu. The staff at Karunashraya made arrangements for her to visit the holy place but unfortunately she felt too weak to go ahead with the process.
  4. Some family members of ailing patients seek out support groups to meet people from various backgrounds and walks of life, all ultimately dealing with a similar situation of caring for an ailing, beloved family member. This makes for a platform where people can freely share their experiences, emotions and hardships and also cry as it is central to coping strategies to get the weight off one’s chest. All the people in such groups understand each other’s situations and circumstances well.

These mechanisms work differently on different individuals considering the backgrounds we might be from, the strength of the relationship shared with the ailing family member, our upbringing and environment exposed to over the years growing up. Although above mentioned strategies are generally adopted, often counsellors customize their application by these family members, for best outcomes.

Contact Karunashraya at to know more details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *