I'm less patient! What's wrong with me?
by Paul V. Johnson
My husband is terminally ill with cancer. I have reached the above-referenced stage in my care of him, pursuant to those outlined by Hospice (Anger, Denial, Acceptance). But I find my disposition seems to be changing. I'm less patient with him, in need of more sleep, more stressed out. He doesn't know he is terminally ill, which was MY choice. Indeed, it was my demand of all concerned. What in the world is wrong with me? He has lived nine months past the estimated date of his illness prior to his death. Hospice felt they could do no more after a year; he was doing so well. I have so much for which to be grateful: he dresses himself every day, transfers to his wheelchair by himself, we play cards every night?and so many other pluses!
What's wrong with me? Perhaps I have misread your offer of help; if so, please delete this inquiry and forget it. Thanks for whatever?
I am sorry to read of your husband's terminal cancer diagnosis and can understand some of the feelings you expressed. Caring for someone, as you have been caring for your husband, is one of the most emotionally and physically challenging situations any individual could ever have to face. So your feelings of impatience, tiredness, and stress are quite appropriate.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' discussion of stages can be helpful in understanding our situation; however, some times they are too "cut and dried" to be helpful. (And there are other explanations of the grief experience that may be more helpful.) You mention that you are at the "acceptance" stage, but that doesn't mean that you won't experience again some of the things that may be common in some of her earlier stages.
You mention that your husband does not know of his terminal diagnosis and that it is your choice that it be that way. Part of me wonders about the wisdom of that decision. Don't you think that your husband knows of his condition even though no one may have specifically stated it?
Let's say that your husband intuitively does know of his terminal condition. Wouldn't it be a lot better for him and for you to be able to talk about it, to talk about his wishes for a funeral, to talk together about your life after his death? Talking about his situation won't change the diagnosis, but it certainly will help both of you deal with his final days.
There is one other thing you mentioned in your e-mail that may be contributing to some of your feelings. You mentioned that he has lived nine months longer than what was initially expected. You had maybe come to terms with his death occurring at that time and now the fact that he continues to live puts you back at an earlier phase and requires your moving through the stages again. Though you are glad that he is still alive, you continue to face the uncertainty of when his death will occur and that fact makes living your life even more difficult.
I liken it to a person who is driving and enters an intersection just as the light is turning yellow. They decide to continue going through rather than stopping and fully expect to hear a "thud" as someone coming from the other direction hits the back of their car. You, in effect, right now are "living your life on yellow," wondering if this is the day that your husband's death will occur. Living every day that way is emotionally draining; so it is no wonder that you are experiencing what you have shared. Again, being able to talk about it would relieve some of this stress.
I wish you and your husband the best as you continue through whatever number of days he has left. Personally, I think he knows of his condition even though no one may have specifically talked with him about it. Wouldn't it be great to be able to talk freely about everything during whatever time he may have?
Paul V. Johnson, MA, is a consultant and trainer for business, industry, and educational institutions on issues related to loss and grief. He was formerly an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bethel College (MN) and Director of Aftercare Services for the Bradshaw Funeral Homes in the Twin Cities area. He has made presentations at the national conferences of major professional caregiving associations and is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.