Monday, October 02, 2006

When someone in the family is sick

The saying goes that when someone in a family gets sick, the entire family gets sick. The wise friend who originally taught me this also said, "A effects B, and B effects A." The message in all of this is, of course, is a variation on the chain being only as strong as its weakest link. The pity of it is that when such a weak link breaks it destroys an otherwise wonderful chain.

When someone in the family gets sick the others react with saddness , fear and, often anger. Saddness that a loved one is not doing well and may not recover; fear for what will happen to the rest of the family with the loss of the sick one; anger for what the individual is putting the rest of the family through. The anger may be especially in the fore front if the illness has been brought on by the individual's failure to take care of themself. What ever, the family finds itself in dark times.

Such times bring out the best in some family members as they rise to support the sick individual and to hold together the grieving family. On the other hand, the illness may be the proverbial straw and "break the back" or, in this case, the will of a family member. Then there are two sick individuals in an already compromised family.

I've seen this happen in the familys of my patients friends as the illness (or, sometimes, behavior) of an individual family member brings down the entire clan. For the want of a nail a horse was lost...a kingdom was lost.

Some in this situation will ask, why me? Some will grow to hate the one who brought the sickness to the family. Others will sit down and give up all hope as they feel the utter uselessness of trying to fight something over which they have no control. Still others will seek support in finding that ellusive space between need to love the sick one and the need to detach for self survival. To others, this detachment may seem cold or even cruel. In reality, it is a way to self preservation which, in turn, allows that member to remain strong and, perhaps in the end, lead the rest out from the darkness. Yet he also carries the knowledge that he may emerge from the darkness only to find himself to be alone...the single survivor or something he didn't want and didn't cause.

Paddle safe...

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