Hope and serious illness

Hope is always available. We just need to know how to look for it. The challenge of a serious illness is to remain optimistic and realistic, both at the same time. Of course the person you care for will have good days. And there will be bad days. But even if there is a terminal diagnosis, it does not mean the days are filled with hopelessness.

It’s about LIVING! As you and your loved one navigate living with a serious condition, don’t forget the “living with” part! We aren’t gone until we’re gone! Every day provides an opportunity for enjoying life. Regardless of the long-term future, you can inject hope and joy into each day.

Consider these strategies:

The diagnosis of a serious illness and the coming of death can bring feelings of hopelessness. We have some measure of control in our lives, but we have absolutely no control over the illness or over the grave. Suddenly we are at the mercy of the doctors, nurses, and other care-givers.

Jesus met a woman in a similar situation. She had been at the mercy of doctors for twelve years and none were able to cure her. However, this woman trusted in Jesus’ authority over her body’s illness. She knew that even a simple touch of His cloak could bring her the relief that twelve years of doctors could not. Her faith saved her. (Luke 8:43-48)

This unnamed woman was given a miracle. That illness was cured, but her body still eventually saw death. Her healing was temporary.

In Jesus, we all share in this woman’s hope – each of us, in a personal way. In baptism, we are washed in Jesus’ Living Water and cured of sin. Our earthly body will still decay and die, but our soul – that which we and our loved ones know personally – lives on eternally with the Lord. In the Resurrection, our earthly bodies will be raised again as well.

We mistakenly convince ourselves that physical healing in this life means that we have favor in God’s sight. But even Jesus suffered physical hurt and death – yet remained God’s Son throughout it all! Certainly we can pray to God for healing; it is by no means wrong to do so. However, if we are not healed, that does not mean God has abandoned us.

“Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” (Lamentations 3:19-24, ESV)

Suffering and death are not easy; even Jesus cried out in lament. (Mark 15:34, 37) But they are not the end. Our hope is that we are not abandoned by God, but rather that He is with us even in these, the toughest of times. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that our heavenly Father would “deliver us from evil.” In some cases, this means healing our earthly illness. In many more lives, this prayer for deliverance is answered in death – where eternal peace can then be found in heaven. Through our faith in Christ we can say with the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 43:5, ESV) He is our salvation from disease and, ultimately, from eternal death.

Embracing simple pleasures

In the face of an uncertain future, many people find themselves grateful for simple pleasures.

  • The first flowers of spring
  • A beautiful sunset
  • A lovely melody
  • A tasty treat
  • A visit from a friend
What can you do to help your loved one notice the joy in each day?
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Adding life to your days

Dr. David Casarett is a palliative care physician who wrote a book called Last Acts. He works with people who have a life-limiting condition and is often asked the question, “How much longer do I have?” This book is a delightful collection of stories of the many different ways that his patients decided to spend their remaining time.

Some chose to pursue a cherished hobby, like painting, or to finish a project. Some chose to do things for others. Some focused on mending relationships. The common thread was that the activities gave them purpose. They added life to their days.

As Dr. Casarett likes to say, “From altruism to revenge,” people come up with many different and surprising ways to address the responsibility of choosing how they spend their last few months on earth.

What would add life to your loved one’s days, weeks or months? Ask! You may be surprised how easy it is to facilitate that wish.
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Striving for realistic goals

What’s on your loved one’s “bucket list?”

Ask your loved one what he or she would like to do. Anything on that “bucket list” that really stands out? It doesn’t have to be big. Or challenging. Just meaningful to the person you care for.

Perhaps she wants to be sure to go to a grandchild’s wedding or see a great-grandchild graduate.

Maybe there’s a place he’s wanted to revisit. Or a rift in a relationship he’d like to mend.

Talk to the doctor
Even if it is a physical stretch, talk to the doctor about what’s feasible. It may be realistic to meet a goal if the treatments are paced in a certain way. Perhaps modifications can be made that address your loved one’s limitations.

What last goals would your loved one like to try for?
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Getting support from hospice

Some people mistakenly think hospice is about giving up hope. Not so!

Reaching goals
Hospice brings together a team of health professionals to help a patient achieve those realistic goals. The support of the hospice team not only improves quality of life, it actually seems to help people live longer.

Hospice is about living fully now
Hospice is about living each moment that you have to the fullest, making each day the best day it can be.

But it’s difficult to visit with family or do the things you love when you don’t feel well. Pain, fatigue, nausea, depression: They sap your loved one’s energy. The hospice team works to reduce physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort. This way your relative has energy to engage. The hospice team also supports family caregivers!

Might you or your loved one benefit from

  • a nurse to manage pain and difficult symptoms
  • an aide to assist with bathing
  • a social worker for emotional and other support
  • a chaplain for talking through spiritual concerns
  • a volunteer to periodically visit with your loved one, offering family members a few hours off

If your relative is on Medicare, these services are covered 100%. Medicare even pays for medicines for comfort and helpful equipment, such as a hospital bed.

Hospice support is available to eligible patients for up to six months.

If you would like support for hope, give us a call at 888-352-1571 (toll-free).
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