Caregiving: Breaking Bad News

Caregiving, Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on February 21, 2012

QUESTION: My sister suffers from brain cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer. As her caregiver, I communicate her condition and status with our other two siblings, who live out of state. They are very supportive and appreciate that I am here providing care. Prior to my sister becoming critically ill, my brother and his wife made arrangements to travel to Paris for their 50th wedding anniversary. I fear my sister might die while they are away. If she does, I don’t want to spoil their trip and let them know we have lost our sister. There is nothing they can do since they will be so far from home. Am I right in trying to protect them?–Rosalie

DEAR ROSALIE: You are kind to want to protect your brother and his wife from the pain they will feel upon hearing the sad news. Unfortunately, that is not your job. As healthy caregivers, we relay information to others as truthfully and thoroughly as possible. Attempting to protect others can backfire and be seen as controlling or manipulative. Withholding your truthful feelings and thoughts might hinder your relationship with your family members and degrade any effective communication and future decision making. Have you voiced your concerns to your brother and his wife? Allow your loved ones to make their own decision and assure them you will carry out their will. In life, we always have options. Perhaps they can postpone their trip or continue with their plans with the expectation you will contact them if your sister’s condition worsens. Work together for a solution that best serves your sister’s interest and allows a stronger bond to grow between you and your loved ones. Due to your sister’s dire health condition, you will all need each other in the future in order to grieve, heal and move forward with your lives.

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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© (, 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