Young People Ask . . .
Why Is Mom So Sick?
Al’s father died of cancer.* Having been taught the Bible’s promise of a resurrection, Al somehow managed to cope with his loss. But when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, the nightmare started all over again. The thought of losing yet another parent terrified Al. ‘Why does it have to be my mother who is sick?’ he would ask himself bitterly.
ACCORDING to Dr. Leonard Felder, “there are over sixty million Americans who are . . . faced with the illness or disability of a loved one.” Felder adds: “On any given day, about one out of every four American workers has the added job of responding to the needs of an ailing parent” or other loved one. If you are in such a situation, you are not alone. Nevertheless, seeing someone you love become ill is frightening and painful. How can you possibly cope?
Why Is My Parent Sick?
Proverbs 15:13 says: “Because of the pain of the heart there is a stricken spirit.” It is quite normal to experience a flood of emotions when your parent is ill. For example, you may feel guilty about your parent’s plight. Perhaps you and your parent have been having some difficulties in getting along. You may have had a heated argument or two. Now that your parent is ill, you may somehow feel that it is your fault. But while family bickering may cause stress, it is rarely a cause of serious illness. Tensions and minor disagreements can occur even in loving Christian households. So you need not carry a burden of guilt, as if you were to blame for your parent’s health problems.
Ultimately, your mom or dad is sick because of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. (Romans 5:12) Because of that original sin, “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.”—Romans 8:22.
Even so, you may be worried and anxious. Terri’s mother suffers from lupus, a disorder with devastating effects. Admits Terri: “Whenever I’m away from home, I’m worried, wondering if Mom is OK. I find it difficult to concentrate. However, since I don’t want her to worry, I keep my feelings to myself.”
Proverbs 12:25 says: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down.” Depression is quite common among youths in this situation. Terri says it was heartbreaking when she saw that her mother could not perform simple tasks. Adding to the stress is the fact that youths—girls in particular—are often forced to take on additional responsibilities. According to Professor Bruce Compas, “girls get burdened with family responsibilities, such as housekeeping and caring for younger siblings, that are beyond their ability to cope and which interfere with their normal social development.” Some teenagers retreat into their own world, listening to gloomy and depressing music.—Proverbs 18:1.
Fear that one’s parent may die is also common. Terri is an only child, and her mother, a single parent. Terri found herself crying every time her mother went to the hospital, fearing that she would never return. Says Terri: “It was just the two of us. I didn’t want to lose my best friend.” A teenage girl named Martha similarly admitted: “I’m eighteen, but I’m still afraid of losing my parents. It would be such a devastating feeling of loneliness.” Other common reactions to a parent’s illness are sleep disturbances, nightmares, and eating disorders.
What You Can Do
As difficult as things might seem right now, you can cope! Begin by sharing your fears and anxieties with your parents. Just how serious is your parent’s condition? What is the likelihood of his or her recovering? What arrangements have been made for your care should your parent fail to recover? Is there any chance that you will develop a similar condition later on in life? Although it is difficult for parents to talk about such things, if you calmly and respectfully ask for their help, they will likely do their best to be helpful and supportive.
Share your positive feelings too. Al recalls his failure to do so when he learned that his mother was dying of cancer. He says: “I didn’t tell her how much I loved her. I knew she wanted to hear me say it, but as a teenager I felt funny expressing such feelings to her. Shortly afterward she died, and I feel guilty now because when I had the chance, I didn’t take advantage of it. I regret that because she was the most important person in my life.” Do not hold back from letting your parents know how much you love them.
If possible, educate yourself regarding your parent’s illness. (Proverbs 18:15) Perhaps your family doctor can assist you in this regard. Being well-informed will help you to be more empathetic, patient, and understanding. And it can help prepare you for any physical changes your parent may suffer, such as scars, hair loss, or fatigue.
Is your parent in the hospital? Then make your visits cheerful and upbuilding. Keep your conversation as upbeat as possible. Share news about your schoolwork and Christian activities. (Compare Proverbs 25:25.) If you live in a country where relatives are expected to provide food and other services for a patient, do your share of the work without complaint. Having a neat and well-groomed appearance will not only cheer your parent but also make a good impression on hospital workers and doctors. This could improve the quality of the care your parent receives.*
Is your parent recuperating at home? Then do what you can to assist with his or her care. Volunteer to take on a reasonable share of the household chores. Try to imitate Jehovah by giving of yourself ‘generously and without reproaching.’ (James 1:5) Do the best you can to display an uncomplaining, optimistic, positive spirit.
Of course, you still have schoolwork. Try to set aside time for it, as your education is still important. If possible, leave some time for rest and recreation. (Ecclesiastes 4:6) This will refresh you and help you to be of better support to your parent. Finally, avoid isolating yourself. Take advantage of the support of fellow Christians. (Galatians 6:2) Says Terri: “The congregation became my family. The elders were always ready to talk with me and to encourage me. I will never forget that.”
Keeping Your Spiritual Balance
Most important of all is maintaining your spiritual balance. Keep yourself busy with spiritual activities, such as studying the Bible, attending meetings, and preaching to others. (1 Corinthians 15:58) During the summer months, Terri would increase her share in the evangelizing activity as an auxiliary pioneer. She adds: “Mom always encouraged me to prepare for and attend the meetings at the Kingdom Hall. That proved to be good for both of us. Since she couldn’t attend every meeting as she wanted to, I paid more than the usual attention so that I could tell her about it later. She depended on me to provide her with the spiritual food when she couldn’t be there.”
An article in The New York Times summed things up well when it spoke of a social worker who has been “continually surprised at how much children can grow and even thrive despite the trauma of parental illness.” She says: “They develop some skills they didn’t know they had . . . If they can get through this, they can get through many things.”
You too can get through this difficult period. Terri’s mother, for example, is now stable enough to care for herself. Perhaps, in time, your parent will also recover. But in the meantime, do not forget that you have the support of your heavenly Friend, Jehovah. He is the “Hearer of prayer” and will listen to your cries for help. (Psalm 65:2) He will give you—and your God-fearing parent—“the power beyond what is normal” so that you can cope.—2 Corinthians 4:7; Psalm 41:3.
Some of the names have been changed.
The article “Visiting a Patient—How to Help,” in the March 8, 1991, issue of Awake! has a number of practical suggestions.
[Blurb on page 22]
“Whenever I’m away from home, I’m worried, wondering if Mom is OK”
[Pictures on page 23]
Learning the facts about your parent’s illness can better equip you to be of help