Helping Loved One’s In A Crisis …Without
By Steven E. Hodes
When my elderly parents fell ill, I found
myself in a very human predicament: I was thrust into
the role of parent and advocate while simultaneously
dealing with the almost paralyzing fear of their
Although I write and teach about metaphysics
and healing on a theoretical and philosophical level, these
personal challenges have offered me powerful insights I feel
called to share with others. They are truly universal
experiences and apply not only to parents but equally to any
In our lifetimes, many of us will have the
experience of caring for a loved one too ill to care for
themselves. For some of us, it may be the inexorable and
heartbreaking decline of a loved-one, which though painful
may allow time for a gradual acceptance of their fate.
Others will be confronted with a sudden, unexpected illness
or death of a close friend or relative. There can be some
preparation and planning in dealing with the former, almost
none for the latter. Each, however, can be equally
I my case I have been dealing with both
My mother is the one who for the past several
years has been afflicted with an insidious form of dementia
characterized by diminishing short term memory.
Under this scenario my 87 year old Father, with his own
chronic but stable heart condition, attempted to be her
primary caretaker. He was exasperated at times but he
forged on despite our pleadings with him to hire someone to
‘live in’ .
Needless to say, a 'crash' occurred. From a recent 'head
cold' my Father developed an overwhelming pneumonia which in
only a few hours nearly killed him. He was clearly so
depleted of 'energy' that his immune system was useless.
An otherwise innocuous viral or bacterial infection was
capable of overwhelming his defenses. And as a physician I
am aware that despite modern drugs and technology even young
patients can die from pneumonia.
As an adult child who happens to be a
physician I immediately felt the enormous stress of leaping
into the chaos and trying to assist both parents
simultaneously. Anyone in similar circumstances will attest
to the incredible strain on their entire being.
This immediately raised powerfully complex
and paradoxical metaphysical issues in my mind: How can
you ‘be there’ completely for those you love who are facing
critical situations, while maintaining your own state of
health? How do you deal the feelings of guilt that may ensue
if you admit concern for your own well being in the face of
the crisis of a cherished loved-one? My father’s deep
empathy for his wife, my mother, resulted in his own
catastrophe. How could I avoid the kind of self sacrifice
that would render me useless to anyone? Is such a
balance even possible?
When you go through a crisis like this, it
can seem odd, surreal and unreal. Even dealing with
physicians and “hospital speak” may seem strange and
bizarre. It may help you to realize that this is a
universal human phenomenon. You are not alone in the
experience or in facing these challenges.
Here are some insights to help you survive
and, yes, spiritually grow.
Place one foot in
front of the other. During times of actual crisis don’t
project or worry about the future. Deal with the
immediate only. Pick out the closest goal or target.
Don’t begin to worry about what WILL or MIGHT occur down
the road. Don’t dwell on how traumatic these events are
for everyone in the family. This will only increase
your anxiety and distress. Pick the next step and
concentrate fully on that. Your worry about the future
is a waste of your energy during times of crisis.
Furthermore, you predictions may be entirely erroneous.
nature of your emotional distress-- fear. This is the
most basic of emotions. The shocking awareness, in
childhood, that we are separate beings whose parents
cannot protect us is a feeling that never truly
dissipates. The fear of being alone rushes back
precipitously when we are reminded of our loved one’s
Assume the role of
the parent/caregiver. You are now the advocate. Make
sure your loved one is getting the best medical care
possible. Your job is not to ‘play doctor’ but to find
the most competent and caring physicians you can. Work
with medical professionals you can trust to guide you
and your loved one through these difficult times.
See the crisis as an
opportunity for healing relationships. Many individuals
have had fractured and painful relationships with their
parents or loved-ones. Seeing your loved-ones as
vulnerable and wounded may offer new opportunities for
healing. Rather than repeating this cycle of
generational pain/anger, this can be a transformative
time for all concerned.
deepest fears and pain . Most psychologists and
spiritual leaders recognize the need to
experience, rather than suppress, these
feelings. The universality of death and
transient nature of life are realities for us
all. Knowing this from a spiritual perspective
can help you dialogue and deal with the
intense feelings of the heart. This is not
easy—but it is necessary and ultimately healing.
Honor what is
going on with your loved one on a spiritual and
metaphysical level. In addition to the physical
emergency, see the higher truth. Understand
that the physical brain/body is constantly
changing and ultimately deteriorating.
Understand that karmic forces will ultimately
determine the outcome of this life as well as
Share your fears with
others. Don’t try to deny your own pain and frustration.
Ventilate your own distress and tell the truth about
what you are going through. Don’t be afraid to frighten
off others. Those who care will be there for you.
Experience the power
of prayer and love -- Let the love and prayers of others
uplift you. Soak in the love.
Recognize the core
truths of life. When a loved one is in a crisis, we
change our priorities and notions of what is important
in life. The pursuit of material wealth, professional
recognition, ego gratification are easily shed.
Unfortunately, after a while, time and again we forget
these healing lessons and return to our prior state of
Choose wisely. When
it comes to decisions regarding end of life or continued
treatment be sure to make the judgment based on the best
interest of your loved-one. Too often there are
unnecessary tests, procedures and surgeries performed on
individuals who are in the process of actively dying and
who have no realistic hope for recovery. Rather than
allow their relatives to die peacefully they may insist
that ‘everything be done’. This causes unnecessary pain
and suffering. Often the motivation is guilt or the
inability to ‘let go’. In such situations, this can be
a selfish, rather than a loving act.
The most important advice
is to maintain your own health. This is a warning to be
heeded. My own Father’s illness was a direct consequence of
not taking care of his own physical/emotional/spiritual
needs. Although we may be focused completely on our
loved-ones suffering, we need to be strong in order to be
there. Withdraw yourself mentally from their crisis for
short periods and do not feel guilty. Maintain your
nutrition, exercise and rest. Whether meditation, exercise
or prayer are your personal modes of finding strength, don’t
abandon them now. Remember the universal statements
regarding the use of oxygen masks on airplanes: “When flying
with children, always place YOUR mask on first.” You have
to be strong and conscious in order to help others.
On your journey, remember also that Love
Heals. Your presence in your loved one’s life is a healing
presence … let others replenish you with their love and
compassion along the way.
Steven E. Hodes, MD.,
E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist
with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and
Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious
Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at
Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on
Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and
on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his daily Blog,
Physician to Meta-Physician at