Communicating with the Family
My wife has terminal cancer. My daughter has been visiting and is creating additional emotional stress for us. I would like to talk to my daughter, but she is always on the defensive. My daughter was supposed to be here to help her mother emotionally, but she only seems concerned with her own trivial issues. What can I do?

Living with a loved one who has a progressive cancer disease is stressful and exhausting. It affects each family member differently, and everyone has his or her own reaction. Often, the way we respond to one another becomes more intense as the stress of the situation increases. Your daughter’s behaviour, which may appear defensive and self-focused, likely reflects her own vulnerability and fear of losing her mother.

We understand your frustration completely. No doubt if your daughter could find a way to deal with her issues, she wouldn’t be increasing the emotional tension at home. However, she may be reacting in the only way she knows how, and is not able to separate out her own “stuff.” In this challenging time, consider meeting as a family to discuss everyone's needs. Creating understanding among family members can help you work toward common goals.

Our guess is that you all care a lot about each other and no one wants the increased tension. That's an important starting point. Recognizing that the demands of the situation drain energy and strain emotions is important too. Be upfront about what you need. Try to balance understanding what is happening for each person with what each of you need. It often helps to remember that “no one signed up for this," and that the situation itself is causing a lot of your reactions.

We expect that all of you want your wife to use her limited energy in the best way possible. Acknowledge the realities of your situation and allow people to speak openly without judgment. This will help you better understand each other. It will also help you come up with practical strategies to deal with the demands of a challenging life experience.

Some people find it helpful to share with others who are travelling a similar road. You may like to take part in our Discussion Forums. In this way, you can share your experiences, questions and concerns with other caregivers who are dealing with similar stresses. Having someone to talk to on a regular basis can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. It may also you give ideas about how to cope.

Also consider help from health care providers and volunteers from resources available in your community. There may be a palliative care program, hospice palliative care association or grief support group in your area. Such organizations can usually point you to useful resources and helpful programs for patients and families, before and after the death of a loved one. You can also look for resources in our cross-Canada directory: Programs and Services.