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This article talks about:
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In addition to resources like this one, Homewood Health and Kids Help Phone also offer 24/7 confidential counselling at no cost.
If you'd like to speak to somebody, you can call or text the numbers below:
📞 Phone. Call 1-866-585-0445 (Adults) or 1-888-668-6810 (Youth) to speak with a counsellor.
📱 Text (SMS). Text WELLNESS to 741741 (Adult) or 686868 (Youth) to connect with a trained volunteer crisis responder for support.
However, If you’re interested in finding more resources like this one, including self-guided courses, webinars, peer-to-peer support groups, live counselling, mindfulness meditations, and more, you can create an account for free. You’ll also be able to complete a wellness assessment and track your progress towards your wellness goals.
When someone we love faces a serious illness, our entire life is affected, both at home and in the workplace. Serious illness can bring many changes, emotions, and challenges that might spill into work life. A wide range of intense emotions shakes us daily. We might feel shock, fear, love, guilt, hope, anger, deep sadness, grief. We also might yearn for our earlier life when everyone was healthy.
When a loved one is ill, our usual work can become overwhelming. At work, many people might feel distracted, irritable, or impatient with colleagues. They might be unable to concentrate. Tasks that once seemed vital may now feel meaningless.
These are normal and healthy responses when a health crisis affects a family member or close friend. The illness of a loved one will at times overshadow all other concerns. Yet, there are ways to help you manage the challenges. Below are some suggestions from people who have gone through something similar.
What can be helpful?
Find someone to talk to. This could be a friend, a religious leader, a counsellor, or a trusted family member. Talking helps name and manage strong emotions. For some people, coworkers can be a big source of support. Others may not want to share any details at work.
Find others who are in a similar situation. Everyone’s experiences are unique. But people who have faced a similar illness can share invaluable advice. They can give you suggestions about coping, treatment options, and what to expect. You can also find medical information from national organizations online.
Tell your supervisor. Make sure you let your supervisor know what is happening. Whether you are aware of it or not, this situation may affect your work. Your supervisor can help you rebalance work expectations with your new demands.
“When a loved one is ill, our usual work can become overwhelming. At work, many people might feel distracted, irritable, or impatient with colleagues. They might be unable to concentrate. Tasks that once seemed vital may now feel meaningless.”
Take care of your physical health. This may sound simple, but many people ignore their own well-being when a loved one is ill. It is important to maintain your physical and emotional balance. This will benefit both you and your family. Pay attention to what you eat, and how much sleep and exercise you get each day. Stay active as much as possible.
Don’t lose hope. It is very hard to accept a serious illness affecting a loved one. It forces us to make unfamiliar choices. It takes time just to understand and adapt to all the new information. Fortunately, there are many resources that can help. You can call or text the phone number above to speak to a professional. Support is available 24/7.
“If there’s anything I can do...”
People often shy away from coworkers going through a personal crisis. They might not know how to help, or what to say. They are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that they end up avoiding the very person who needs their care, attention, and support. So what can you do to help someone you know who is facing a serious illness? Here are some simple suggestions:
Be available. One of the best things a coworker can do is just be available if needed. Let your affected colleague know that if there is anything you can do to support them, you will assist whenever you can.
Listen. When a colleague wishes to talk, you can be helpful by actively listening. Give them space to talk about whatever they need to, even if they repeat themselves. Sometimes, just listening to their story can provide some comfort for them. Listen with patience and without judgment.
Accept their feelings. Accept whatever your coworker is feeling at the moment. This may be anger, guilt, sadness, hope, fear. Don’t focus on whether they are feeling the “right” emotions. It is good to feel our full range of emotions. This helps us cope in difficult situations.
Ask how they are doing. People sometimes think that “bringing it up” will remind the person of their fears and cause them more pain. But most people whose loved ones are ill already have illness on their minds. If it is too painful to speak about their situation, they will let you know. Most will be grateful you cared enough to ask.
Be patient. Serious illness is life-changing. Your colleague might not return to their usual self for a long time. Be patient. Realize there will be many ups and downs, mood swings, and behavioural changes. Your listening and patience could make a huge difference.
Ask how you can be helpful. It is always good practice to check in with your affected coworker. Ask whether your concerns, questions, and presence are helpful. If you get the impression that the person needs more privacy, be respectful of that.
Understand the need for balance. Take the advice of author Henri Nouwen: “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.”
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