Emotions and Spirituality
How do we maintain hope when we can see that our father’s condition is deteriorating?

As your father’s health deteriorates, it may get harder to maintain the hopes that he and your family had when he first became ill. You may find it impossible to feel positive when symptoms persist, when new symptoms appear, when treatments don’t bring the results you wish for, or when physical well-being declines. Indeed, at times you may feel the situation is out of control and hopeless. Mixed in with such feelings can be a deep sadness about the thought of losing your father.

It may be hard for family members to talk with one another about these struggles. You may feel pressure to stay upbeat and keep fighting the illness. You may feel you are undermining hope or showing signs of giving up if you express discouragement about what is happening, anxiety about what the future holds, question the benefits of further treatments or raise palliative care as an option.

Sometimes people are not on the same page with their feelings and concerns. Your father or some members of your family may want to talk about your father's changing condition, while others are not ready. Those who are ready to talk need to find ways of doing this while respecting the reluctance of those who are not there yet. If you think your family needs help in doing this, you may want to ask a member of your father’s health care for assistance. You may also find help in reading this Virtual Hospice article - Living with Limited Time: Exploring Feelings

Hope changes as an illness progresses. At first, hope is a belief in a the possibility of a cure. This is a natural expression of a deep desire to have the person who is ill restored to health. When the illness progresses, as it seems to be doing in your father’s case, the focus of hope must change. It becomes more about the present than the future. Your hope may shift to making the most of whatever time is remaining while drawing on the memories and love you have shared throughout a lifetime. Later your hope may focus on getting the best possible care for your father as he grows weaker, and on finding new ways to give and receive love as he approaches death.

You never need to give up hope if you remain realistic, flexible, and open to others. Look at each day as full of possibilities. Consider every interaction between you, your father, and other family members an opportunity to support and strengthen each other. Hope that is damaged can grow again as you create ways to express your love of life and of each other every day.

There is no one right way to maintain hope. Your hope is influenced by your personality, the meaning you find in life, and the strength of your connections to family, friends, and the wider community. Here are some suggestions you and your family may find helpful in promoting hope during your father’s illness:

Explore ways your family can help each other through the changes your father’s illness has brought into your family life.

  • Set short-term, flexible goals and make realistic plans to achieve them.
  • Talk to your father about his concerns and work with his health care team to address them.
  • Reminisce together and share stories of good times you have had over the years.
  • Show your sense of humour, especially about any physical help or care you need to give your father.
  • Draw on your spirituality or your connections to a faith community for comfort, inner strength, and meaning.

For more on maintaining hope check out this Virtual Hospice article:

Hope and Denial

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