To the Kid Whose Parent Was Just Diagnosed With a Terminal Illness

I know what you’re feeling. At 14, when my dad was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), I felt it all: the shock, fear and sadness that comes with a parent’s terminal diagnosis. I wish I could say it’s an easy road, but it’s not. You may see your parent lose abilities that were taken for granted, until they can require assistance for the simplest tasks. No child or teenager should ever have to experience this. Our parents are still meant to be taking care of us, and suddenly it’s the other way around. I don’t mean to scare you with this information. I know you have a lot to take in, so take some time.

Talk about it and come to terms with your feelings. Vent with family, therapists or friends about what is happening and how it affects you. If you are uncomfortable with that, then talk to yourself. Shortly after my dad was diagnosed, I laid in bed and researched his condition, preparing myself for what lay ahead. I thought about all the things my dad would miss and how much he would suffer. This may seem like torture, but having a good cry that night has allowed me to come to terms with what is happening. Every once in a while, when my dad becomes sicker, I sit myself down and think about what has changed. This is sad, but repressing how you feel can just make you feel worse in the end.

Your relationship with your sick parent will change, but not necessarily in a bad way. Rather than going to baseball games with my dad, we now bond over Netflix. We have wheelchair races instead of playing catch, and he teaches me how to make him the meals he always made me. I spend more time with him now, and I feel like this has made me closer to my dad.

Get to know nurses, aides and caregivers. My dad’s home aide is practically a lifesaver, and she has taught me how to handle things my dad experiences. You want to have a good relationship with the person who’s caring for your parent.

You are not alone in this. Not only do you have your whole family going through the same struggles, but there are many people (like me) who have experienced a parent’s illness. Reach out to someone you know or join a support group. The advice of someone who knows what you’re going through can be invaluable.

Spend as much time as you can with your parent. They will need you more than ever, so be there for them. You now have only a short time to make a lifetime of memories, so don’t take anything for granted.

You’ve got a long road ahead of you, but you will be OK.

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