Before she dies.
I'm losing my sister soon due to her breast cancer. We cannot see each other because she lives overseas. She has only a few months left and I can go and stay there only for a month due to my work. I'm already so incredibly sad and crying all the time, and I'm very scared that I might get depressed badly if she dies (I had depression and an eating disorder long time ago but I'm managing ok at the moment). If I go see her now then I will lose my job for sure. I just want to know what I can do now to prevent having depression again, and what I can do for her now. I'm thinking if I should just go and lose my job but I'm 50 and I don't think I can find a new job. My sister says she has a lot of friends helping her and I shouldn't rush out just yet, just talk to each other on the phone. Please help me, I'm so sad and panicky, feel like I'm going crazy. Depression is already creeping up. What should I be doing now?
I'm so very sorry that you are losing your sister to cancer and that the situation is so complicated due to the fact that she lives overseas. I lost my mum the same way three years ago, so I know you are really suffering and experiencing a range of challenging emotions. Hugs to you.
If depression is already creeping in, please make an appointment to speak with a mental health professional. If you are comfortable seeing the practitioner who helped you in the past, great. If not, please see your GP for a new referral and mental health care plan.
I think it will help to work with a professional to put a plan in place to manage your mental health through this journey with your sister. For example, strategies to better manage through long distance communication, seeing her, leaving her if you must and so on. It's all going to be a roller coaster ride.
If it helps, my mum and I relied on the phone and FaceTime (when my sister was available to assist mum with the technology). I also sent mum letters and small gifts, so she would always know I was thinking of her.
My mum's battled last seven years (lung & bone cancer). I visited each year and helped as much as I could. Towards the end, we decided I should go and stay with her when she got to the pointy end of palliative care. She wanted me to be with her when she died and I felt the same. But mum fell unexpectedly sick with a cold and deteriorated very quickly. I organised an emergency flight but missed seeing her by one day. Thankfully I was able to speak to her via the phone when she passed. It broke my heart.
I wouldn't wait too long to go and see your sister and I also wouldn't rush. If she's managing okay now that gives you time to see a counsellor or psychologist to help you make decisions and work out a plan of action that will best protect your mental health. And it will enable you to take some time to really think about your financial situation. Run the numbers and ensure that whatever you do it won't put you in a perilous financial position.
Unemployment is really low right now so it might not be as hard as you think to pick up a new job, if you choose to stay longer than a month. Maybe there's a way to access unpaid leave and avoid this upheaval? Don't know but it would be worth a chat with HR.
Please post any time.
Kind thoughts to you
Hi Summer Rose, thank you for your practical advice. I feel lucky now that I have a chance to organise it to get this right. My job is only a part-time and I don't have workplace support like HR. I'm certain that I will lose my job if I stay there longer than a month (my boss insinuated it). I liked your idea of giving her letters and gifts, that would at least make me feel that I'm doing something useful. What else did you do to connect with her? What worked? How did you show your love to your mum? What can I do in such a short period of time to create memories, so that I won't regret? I don't want to feel I couldn't do enough for her...
A year before my mum died my children and I went to visit her. Part way through the visit she was hospitalised…kids went back to Australia as planned … I stayed longer to transition her to a nursing home. My mum gave me her recipe book, a treasured gift.
When I got back to Australia we talked every other day in the phone but there wasn’t always a lot to talk about and it wasn’t always easy. She was sick, scared, in pain and facing the loss of everything. She was very often angry—not at me, at the world. I think the anger really surprised me, although I should have expected it.
Anyway, I proposed that I’d make a book of her recipes and make copies for each of her grandchildren and my sister. This gave us a purpose and we talked a lot about the recipes, because I couldn’t always decipher her writing/shorthand and she had lots of tips for successful cooking, etc. Together we crafted the book and I designed the pages to included heaps of family photos. She really liked the idea that her recipes would live on (she was an amazing cook).
Maybe there is some kind of project you could work on with your sister? Depending on how long she’s been living overseas she might be interested in seeing photos of local places special to both of you, like your family home or primary school? Or, you could FaceTime from locations that have meaning to both of you. Kind of a trip down memory lane. Might spark some nice conversations. Just thinking out loud.
We also had a lot of conversations that started with “remember when”. I put thought into sparking these conversations to ensure Mum would enjoy it.
Mum was very practical and wanted to plan her own funeral so I also helped with that.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Things will evolve and opportunities to show your love and care for your sister will present themselves. Just being a calm, steady presence in her life right now will really be a gift.
On the work front, just remember that your boss may have difficulty filling your position if it does get to that. Many employers are crying out for staff, so hopefully that will work in your favour, if necessary.
Kind thoughts to you
Thank you Summer Rose, the recipe book idea is brilliant though we aren't good cooks. I think I can come up with something similar if I think about it hard enough! You have given me so many ideas that I can do, in fact, your small gifts idea in the first reply made me to take action already! I thought of a good gift and found something called "Trauma Teddies". Today I went to Spotlight and bought some yarn and knitting needles, and I'm at the teddy's foot now. It gives me something to do, otherwise a lot of negative thoughts pop up in my mind and become very sad. I've never knitted before... but hey, I can learn a new trick or two. My only concern is that Trauma Teddies are for kids... I emailed Red Cross and asked if I can make one for my sister and another for a child, and have my teddies inspected for their quality testing (all teddies have to pass their test). I hope they allow me to do it. I just wanted to say thank you because your messages really helped me a lot, and it is reassuring to know I'm not alone.