A woman caring for her dying father worries that the family’s caregiver stress will affect her supportive fiancé. Caregiving expert Patricia Smith gives her take.
QUESTION: My fiancé, Jason, has been thrown into my family’s caregiving situation. We are all taking turns caring for my father, who has terminal bone cancer. We are a close family and everyone chips in to help. Jason seems agreeable to supporting me and stays with me when I am scheduled to sit with my father. The thought of losing our father has been very hard on me and my three siblings. My mother is a rock, but even she is beginning to unravel at times. There have been some unfortunate outbursts, along with a fair amount of crying, disagreements and sadness. I’m fearful seeing our family in such a state is beginning to wear on Jason. He isn’t seeing our family at its best. Is my concern reasonable? —Marianna
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ANSWER: Your concern is understandable given the dire situation you are all experiencing. The crying, disagreements and sadness you mention are all normal behaviors for everyone involved. As for Jason, he will observe and see the world through his own life experiences. Hopefully, his experiences have taught him that family members exhibit a whole range of emotions when under stress, and the ups and downs have nothing to do with the love and care they feel for each other. The fact that he has been supportive with his time is a very good sign. Unfortunately, you didn’t mention your observations and why you believe the situation is “beginning to wear on Jason.” Do you sense he is pulling away? Is he arguing with family members? Is he making excuses why he can’t be there for you? Perhaps you are hooking into your own fears involving loss. When the end of life appears certain for a loved one we tend to hold on tight, try to control the situation and hopefully, the outcome–which, of course, we can’t. What we can do is create an environment of consent, collaboration and consensus. These positive communication skills will also help your father, who might be picking up the stress and negativism around him. Our goal as caregivers is to create a culture of caring, not only with those in our care, but also with others who are traveling the path with us. If you continue to have doubts, spend some time with Jason and explain your feelings and concerns–and also allow him the opportunity to express his needs. He might surprise you and want to take on more responsibility for your father’s care. If that is the case, talk to your siblings so they understand that his desire to be more involved comes from a place of wanting to belong as a fully vested member of your loving family. If the opposite is true and Jason would like to opt out, it is probably best that you know that now and make new plans accordingly.
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.comor Amazon.com.