The Journey of Aging Well
with helpful tips for family caregivers
June is a month of celebrations and transitions. Sometimes, though, the celebrations come with difficulties attached. This issue we look at Father’s Day for the bereaved. We also look at what happens when cancer returns after the celebration of being “cancer free.” And last, we look at the joy of leaving the hospital, but also the hard work involved when your relative is discharged to a rehab facility.
Father's Day without Dad
This Father’s Day you may be among the millions of Americans who face the bittersweet reality of celebrating a father who has passed away.
Holidays of this sort are especially poignant the first year after a death.
Whether your father was a protector, a fun buddy, or a stern judge, his passing has great symbolic meaning. With his death, you have lost the ability to resolve any unfinished dynamics. There may be things you wish you had said or wish you had done together.
This Father’s Day, consider these options for acknowledging the man you called “Dad.”
- Cook a meal in his honor. What were Dad’s favorite foods? Create a meal and invite each guest to offer a toast to your father.
- Plant a tree or sponsor a bench in his name. Returning to this spot each year can be a great way to acknowledge the place he had in your life and heart.
- Get a Father’s Day card and write what you would like to have said to him. Or write it on a biodegradable helium balloon that you can release to the sky.
- Go over old photographs, especially with the next generation, and share stories and special memories.
- Visit his gravesite. Bring flowers. Perhaps read a poem or tell a story. These days you can even record your visit via smartphone video and post on Facebook!
- Take a father figure to lunch. Is there someone else in your life you look up to as a role model? Take him to lunch and rekindle that relationship.
- Honor a lonely father. Many older men are isolated. Contact a nursing home, senior center, or church to ask if you can visit and brighten the life of another dad.
- Ask yourself, “What would Dad do?” and go do it with gusto!
If the cancer returns
A doctor almost never tells a cancer patient, “You are cured.” This is because many cancers have a pattern of remission (no obvious symptoms) and then recurrence. Nevertheless, one always hopes. So hearing that a loved one’s cancer has come back or has spread (metastasized) can be heartbreaking for everyone.
Having gone through the war zone of cancer treatment as a family, you know how difficult it can be. But being a cancer veteran also gives you advantages:
- You know what assistance helps. Having a meal delivered now and then. Asking a neighbor to take out the bins on trash day. Having someone pick up medicines at the pharmacy. You’ve created a support system before. Time to reengage it.
- You know what didn’t work well for you. This gives you an opportunity to try other options. Maybe your friends weren’t as supportive as you had hoped they would be. Perhaps you could try an online support group of cancer caregivers.
Depression and anxiety are common reactions for the patient and for family members. Fortunately, these can be treated quite readily. Seek help quickly if you sense the emotional ship is sinking.
You may question whether treatment is the best option. This is an immensely personal decision for your loved one. There is no right or wrong answer. If the decision is to forego treatment, you can get wonderful support from hospice. You don’t have to face this alone.
Even if the recurrence means things are more serious, it does not mean that your days must be filled with hopelessness. Everyone needs things to look forward to. Help your loved one and other family members focus on simple pleasures, such as visiting with friends, taking a nice stroll, or listening to favorite music.Return to top
Making the transition to rehab
It’s good news if your loved one is sent to a rehab facility after a hospital stay.
It means the doctor expects that, with therapy, your relative might resume usual activities or learn to adapt to new challenges following an injury or illness.
The rehab experience frequently lasts several weeks and can be intense. It is a workout.
Patient motivation is key. Shortly after admission, the rehab staff will assess your loved one and set specific goals. Daily physical therapy, speech therapy, and/or occupational therapy will be used to achieve those goals. Patients are expected to participate at least one hour per day.
This “workout” may seem overwhelming to your relative. And therapists have different styles. Some praise and others are more commanding. Encourage your relative to give feedback if a particular style is not helpful.
Help the team connect with your loved one. You can do this by providing perspective from the past and continuity with your loved one’s future:
- No hospital gowns here! Your relative will need comfortable clothes labeled with his or her name.
- Attend the “care planning” meetings. This is when staff members from all departments discuss a patient’s goals and progress. Ask questions here!
- Ask for observations and tips, but be sensitive to your loved one’s privacy.
- Visit when you can, and consider attending treatment sessions to give support. Balance encouragement of your family member with realistic expectations.
Patients leave rehab when they meet their goals. Or when they “plateau,” meaning that they are no longer improving. Lack of participation is also a reason for discharge. Usually some form of care or therapy will still be needed. Work with the facility to create a discharge plan that addresses things such as exercises at home, visits from a home health nurse, or follow-up at a clinic.Return to top