Coping with Complex Emotions
Whether you are a patient, a family member or a close friend of someone who is being cared for by the Hospice, you will invariably experience a wide range of emotional reactions that can be difficult to predict or understand. It is important to realise that the emotions are a natural response to the changes that are taking place in your life. The Earl Mountbatten Counselling & Bereavement Support Service is here to help you during this very difficult time. They are professionally trained to recognise the differing emotional responses.
They can provide psychological support, or simply 'a listening ear’, for you or any family member. This includes children, and they will offer support when you wish to talk to your children about what is happening.
What to Expect Emotionally
Being given the diagnosis of terminal illness doesn’t seem possible since it is something that usually happens to someone else. A diagnosis of cancer or other life threatening illness shatters these assumptions.
The immediate reaction to this devastating news tends to be a mixture of disbelief, confusion, shock and numbness. Some people find it hard to remember what has been said and it is often necessary to go back over the information at a later stage when the shock of the news has settled.
Once the initial confusion and panic has sunk in it seems people interpret this sad news in several ways:
- Fighting spirit - Being very positive, seeing the news as a challenge.
- Avoidance or denial – “It’s not that serious.”
- Fatalism – “It’s out of my hands.”
- Helplessness and hopelessness
- Anxious preoccupation - Worrying about everything all the time.
Your life has been tipped upside down and everyone in your family, including the person who is ill, will go through an adjustment process.
Some of the emotions that may be experienced through this adjustment process may be:
- Anxiety - Bracing you for impending loss.
- Sadness - This may seem overwhelming at times.
- Denial - Disbelief may set in and we find ourselves thinking this isn’t happening
- Bargaining - May be bargaining with doctors, or even God, “if only you let me get better I promise to…”
- Anger - This often emerges when we feel helpless and powerless.
- Bitterness - Feeling alone and abandoned.
- Guilt - Sometimes creeps in when anger occurs.
- Loneliness – Feelings of emptiness.
- Withdrawal from loved ones - This may occur when the emotions of pending loss are so overwhelming; this can happen with a patient or relative.
Remember that it is all about living with the illness, rather than dying from it. Much of the challenge of living with terminal illness is about living with uncertainty and to still feel in control of your future. If you are able to take some control you and your family can make this a very precious time.
How you and your family respond to this illness will have a lot to do with how you as a family have related in the past. If your family is used to talking openly about feelings with each other, they will probably be able to talk about the illness and the changes that it brings. Families in which people don’t talk about feelings, and who tend to deal with feelings individually, will probably have difficulty acknowledging the illness and its impact.
People express their emotions differently. Some like to talk things through or focus on others. Others like to express emotions by doing things, such as washing the dishes or fixing things around the house. They may be more likely to focus inwards. These differences can cause tension because each person may expect the other to act in the same way they would in their place. To reduce stress it may be helpful to remind yourself that everyone reacts differently.
Talking about death or dying is emotionally draining. You may find it helpful to:
- Practice what you want to say in advance.
- Know that your loved one may not want to hear what you have to say.
- Find a quiet time and ask if it is okay to talk.
- Allow time for your loved one to talk, listen and try not to interrupt.
Talking to Children
It is important to be honest with them and explain that your loved one is seriously ill. Experts say that telling children the truth is better than letting them imagine the worst. Use simple language that they can understand. Sometimes simply asking a child what they understand gives you the opportunity to correct any misconceptions.
Remember it is not easy. You also have to deal with your own painful emotions. Perhaps have a close friend with you to offer support, both to you and the children.
If your children seem confused or scared:
- Remind them that you love them.
- Set aside special time that each child can spend with you or your loved one if at all possible.
- Try to keep to a routine.
- Prepare children for changes and side effects of treatment, for example hair loss or tiredness, so they won’t be surprised.
- Children sometimes worry about who will look after them. Reassure them that they will be cared for.
- Help them express their feeling by talking, drawing pictures of how they feel, making a memory box.
Finally, if you find it difficult coping with your emotions with family or friends remember that our Counselling and Bereavement Support Service is here to help you through this difficult time, now and in the future.
You do not need to be referred to the service. Simply pick up the phone if support is required.
The Counselling and Bereavement Support Service is based at the Hospice:
Their direct telephone line is: (01983) 533776. There is an answerphone.
The service is also supported by a dedicated team of specially trained bereavement support volunteers who often visit people in their own homes.
The Counselling and Bereavement Support Service routinely contacts individuals or families post-bereavement.
A memorial service for loved ones to attend, with a guest, is held at the Hospice six months after the death of a relative. These non-denominational services are held bi-monthly and are organised jointly with the Chaplaincy.
A Bereavement Group is held on the first Friday of each month in Day Care. This is facilitated by three of our Bereavement Support volunteers.