4 Family Coping Skills After a Loved One’s Unexpected Diagnosis

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 25 June 2020
  • 3 minute read
4 Family Coping Skills After a Loved One's Unexpected Diagnosis | The Health Sessions

This article is written by Frankie Wallace. 

Getting news of a loved one’s terminal or chronic diagnosis can leave a family destabilized and in shock. Family members will all go through the different stages of grief from shock to acceptance at different rates — and it’s perfectly natural. Although you may all be hurting differently, the potential loss of a loved one is not the time to be alone.

Consider the following coping skills you can use as a family to weather the storm and come to terms with the difficult news.

1.   Connect through faith or spirituality

For many families, news of the potential loss of a loved one can lead to an existential crisis. Many will question why someone they perceive as so beloved would have to face extended suffering due to a chronic illness or premature death.

Turning to faith and spirituality can help you and your family find comfort in the unknown. You may not be able to understand the lesson behind the diagnosis or why your loved one has to struggle, but you can gracefully come to terms with the fact that you don’t have control over the situation.

The saying “let go and let God” can be a powerful mantra at this time, even if your vision of God is universal energy, your own subconscious being, or other forms of spiritually-focused intelligence. Regardless of whether you’re faith-based or spiritual, turn to your beliefs through the difficult times and focus on providing your loved one the strength and support they need.

Many medical facilities are incorporating spiritual care into their practices. If you’ve ever visited a hospital, you’ve probably noticed it has a multi-faith chapel available onsite. Most hospitals today have taken it further by providing pastoral services to aid patients through what may be their most challenging time.

Facilities that add a religious or spiritual layer to patient care may bring their patients the sense of peace and comfort they need to navigate the diagnosis and treatment. But working with spirituality or faith shouldn’t be exclusive to patient care. Families coping with a loved one’s diagnosis could find the strength they need when they worship, pray, or follow their spiritual practices together.

4 Family Coping Skills After a Loved One's Unexpected Diagnosis | The Health Sessions

2.   Manage your grief and tensions as a group

As your family navigates the different stages of grief, you may find that, at one point or another, one or several members will feel angry and frustrated with the situation. They may want to lash out at other loved ones or at the world at large.

It’s essential to have a safe outlet for these feelings. No one should suffer in silence, but if arguing and tension go on for too long, it could affect the family dynamic in the long term, as well as the diagnosed family member. Prioritize family unity by finding ways to avoid suffering in silence and implement methods to reduce anxiety to manage the stress level.

An effective way to reduce stress and anxiety among hurting family members is by exercising more. Depending on your family’s fitness levels, you may choose to go out on a walk or run together or convert part of your home’s garden into a rose garden or flower bed for your loved one who is ill. Physical activity, even if it’s just a simple walk or some gardening, can provide an outlet for some of the energy that creates tension in yourself and among your loved ones.

4 Family Coping Skills After a Loved One's Unexpected Diagnosis | The Health Sessions

3.   Turn to favorite family rituals and routines

One of the biggest lessons a loved one’s unexpected diagnosis can provide you with is that life is short. Try not to spend too much time grieving and being upset while your loved one is still with you. Adjust to the new normal by strengthening relationships. Turn to your family’s favorite traditions to get you through the difficult moments. Enjoy the time you have together to honor family traditions and create new ones. Some ways you can honor old family traditions and create new rituals include the following:

  • Celebrating Christmas in July: If your loved one’s diagnosis is terminal, consider hosting their favorite family traditions, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, early.
  • Hosting Sunday dinners: Don’t wait for an annual family reunion to barbeque together. If your family unit is large, rotate Sunday dinner at different members’ houses and make the dinner interactive. Ask everyone to participate in the preparation of the food and setting the table. It’s a great family team-building activity.
  • Creating a family journal: Start with your loved one who has been diagnosed. Interview them about their childhood and record the interview. Transcribe everyone’s stories to a journal and add photos or other items to illustrate the narrative. Continue the interview process with other family members to create a storybook about your family’s funniest, most touching, and unforgettable experiences.

4 Family Coping Skills After a Loved One's Unexpected Diagnosis | The Health Sessions

4.   Be kind to others — and to yourself

It’s never easy to receive news about a loved one’s illness. Be kind to others and yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of dwelling in past regrets. The time is now — use it wisely to show your loved one the care and support they need.

Which family coping skills pulled you through tough times?

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