“Emotional Needs of the Seriously Ill,” Ensign, Apr. 1976, 40–41
A person who becomes ill is soon frustrated by his sudden inability to participate in all his former activities. The longer he is sick, the more acute his frustration becomes. If his illness is diagnosed as terminal, he may be overcome by the realization that he will never return to his previous activities.
Terminal illness brings a time of crisis both for the sick person and for his family. Besides dealing with their own sad feelings, family members need to support the one who is sick and show they are trying to understand his dilemma. Here are a few suggestions as to what they can do.
1. It is important to show the patient that family and friends still care for him as a person; physical contact is especially effective. Simply touching the patient or holding or shaking his hand tells him that he is touchable and still accepted.
2. Others should be willing to listen to the patient, since he may have a great need to talk, especially about his physical problems, his past, or his concerns for the family’s future. Discuss these subjects openly and honestly with him.
3. Hopefully the family is willing to face rather than deny the patient’s impending death. Someone should simply and honestly explain to the children what is happening and answer their questions. Care should also be taken to explain death from the perspective of eternity.
4. The family needs to make whatever emotional and physical adjustments are necessary to ensure that their loved one receives the necessary care and attention without his being considered a burden.
(For more detailed information and examples on meeting the challenges of chronic and terminal illness, read “Thou Shalt Bear Their Infirmities,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, and “Dealing with Death and Dying,” Ensign, Feb. 1976.) Suzanne Dandoy, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Arizona Department of Health Services