Helping Loved One’s In A Crisis …Without Sacrificing Yourself!

 

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 imminent deaths. 

 

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 loved one. 

 

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 devastating.

 

I my case I have been dealing with both situations simultaneously.

 

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.

 

 

  1. 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. 

 

  1. Acknowledge the 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 mortality.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. Face your 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.

 

  1. 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 its ending.

 

  1. 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.  

 

  1. Experience the power of prayer and love -- Let the love and prayers of others uplift you. Soak in the love.

 

  1. 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 consciousness.

 

  1. 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., 2006                               

Steven 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 www.meta-md.com.

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