Breaking the Hold of Hopelessness
If your loved one has entered the final season of life, you are undoubtedly wrestling with a difficult set of issues. This struggle is a normal part of many caregivers’ experience as they endeavor to provide for their loved one and plan for everything from in-home medical care to legal and financial contingencies.
Often one of the most difficult aspects in this situation is a lack of power or control over your loved one’s health. Feelings of sadness, anger and helplessness are all natural during this time, and almost everyone experiences these emotions throughout the caregiving and grieving process. If it has become clear that your loved one is not likely to win the battle with their condition, hopelessness can become a heavy burden and can even threaten to overwhelm you at times.
The good news is that you don’t have to give in to hopelessness. There are positive ways to counteract this mindset, and even in the midst of troubling times, there are steps you can take to find the strength you need. While providing care for and ultimately grieving for your loved one are among life’s hardest challenges. But you can find hope in the midst of your trials.
Here are some steps to help you break the hold of hopelessness:
Allow yourself to grieve.
Often caregivers feel forced to jump into perpetual “action mode” when a terminal diagnosis is delivered. There are plans to make, people to call, a household to arrange and a thousand other details to address.
In the midst of all that must be accomplished, caregivers can become numb to their own reactions to such a life-altering event. This can create a backlog of repressed emotions that can be damaging in the long run. Make sure to take the time you need to accept the reality of your loved one’s condition and process your feelings of grief and loss. No doubt there are urgent matters to discuss and important decisions to be made, and you are doing your loved one and family a tremendous service by taking on this responsibility. But in order to provide the most effective care to your loved one, you also need to take some time to deal with this painful new circumstance. Allowing yourself a true grieving process during your loved one’s final season of life will help you stay healthy and focused throughout your time of caregiving.
Ask for help.
Many primary caregivers fall victim to a simple, crippling lie: “I am the only one who can do this.” From daily meals and chores, to medical appointments, to personal care routines, to financial and legal decisions, know one thing for certain: You are not in this alone. In each area of responsibility you have, there are people available to assist you.
The more duties you are able to spread among good resources, the better able you will be able to lead in caring for your loved one. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends to run errands, spend time with your loved one or provide some meals. In matters requiring expert advice such as medical or financial questions, your hospice care team is ready to offer options and solutions. And personal consultation with spiritual leaders or trained counselors can be an invaluable source of comfort and strength. As you reach out to family, friends, medical staff and counselors, look for ways to spend these last months building memories and strengthening relationships. Many caregivers find that a solid community comes together in this time to offer comfort and assistance. If your loved one is willing, there may be opportunities to spend time with many of those who mean the most to you. These personal connections will help you and your loved one to see beyond a condition and understand that even this time can offer very real moments of peace and joy.
Change your thinking.
Often feelings of hopelessness are related to the painful reality of your loved one’s diagnosis. Because there is very little chance for a cure or recovery, facing the inevitable can feel overwhelming. But the fact of your loved one’s terminal condition does not need to be the only thing that influences your outlook or emotional health. There are often many positive aspects that are possible to realize in this difficult season. As you endeavor to view your circumstances in a positive light, there are several detrimental thought patterns that may come up. Professional counselors agree that it is beneficial to recognize such patterns and have mental responses prepared to replace these negative thoughts with thoughts of hope and reassurance. Here are three common negative patterns those facing the impending loss of a loved one often encounter and appropriate responses to each:
Negative thought pattern #1: I should always feel sad because of my loved one’s condition. Enjoying anything means I don’t care enough.
Response: It hurts deeply that my loved one is going through this, but I can still enjoy my time with them, and I can still enjoy my life. It is not wrong or disrespectful to find moments of happiness during this difficult time.
Negative thought pattern #2: There is nothing that can be done to cure my loved one, so I might as well give up.
Response: While my loved one may not recover, there is much that can be done during the time we have left together. I can help to make them comfortable and create memories that will last a lifetime. This diagnosis is not the only aspect of our relationship.
Negative thought pattern #3: I have so many regrets about my relationship with my loved one. I haven’t been good to them, and I am a bad caregiver.
Response: I haven’t been perfect, and I am sad that we’ve missed out on some things. But I am here doing my best, and my presence is helping my loved one. We have many good memories and lasting relationships with our friends and family. What we have together has been more than enough.
Allow yourself to live.
Often a dedicated caregiver can become so involved in their loved one’s condition and all of its related responsibilities that they can lose a sense of self. Remember that your identity is still important. You are not neglecting your duties if you take some time to continue pursuing personal hobbies and relationships that are meaningful to you. Try to enlist enough help that you can take time to recharge your own batteries. And this doesn’t have to mean just getting enough rest. It is healthy for you to keep engaging in the part of your life that isn’t related to caregiving, both the relationships that are important to you and the activities that you enjoy. Naturally the balance will shift during this season, and it is normal for you to spend the majority of your time on caregiving concerns. But a few hours’ break here and there can go a long way toward helping you to maintain a well of strength and a healthy outlook. Seek out ways to find time for yourself, and you will return to your loved one and your caregiving with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
In this difficult season, these tips and actions may not be easy to implement, and not every piece of advice works for every situation. But as you work to make your way through the caregiving process, keep these options in mind, and apply the ones that fit your own needs and set of circumstances.
Above all, remember that you are not alone. The chaplains, counselors, social workers and volunteers of Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County are here to provide support, compassion and reassurance to you and your loved ones through every step of life’s final stages.
Our ongoing grief and loss support groups are open to all in our community at no cost. We also offer specialized one-on-one counseling, support groups and other activities to help children and adolescents understand and cope with feelings of grief.
For more information or to register for any of these groups, please contact Randy Berryhill at 704-873-4719, ext. 4353.