Support for Uncle with Dying Wife

Updated on February 27, 2010
J.S. asks from Morrisville, PA
10 answers

3 years ago my aunt was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Miraculously she is continuing her fight but it appears that now the end is near. My uncle is a VERY private man but we all can only imagine the emotional turmoil he must be going through. I was wondering if anyone had any ideas of ways that I can give support to my uncle other than phone calls and cards. We are not christian so psalms or bible quotes are not appropriate and my family has and will continue to cook and provide meals for him and his family (all adult children). My cousins all know that I am there with a shoulder, ear, or anything else they need but my uncle is a different kind of griever, which is ok, I just don't know what else I can do. Thank you so much for any suggestions!

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answers from Erie on

One quick thought: A friend who lost her husband to cancer said that the best gift she received was a basket of "essentials" for the house. Buy a tub and fill it with tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, you get the idea. With everything that she was going through, shopping for this kind of stuff wasn't a priority and so many visitors used up all her consumables....

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Maybe offer to do something specific for them - help with laundry, run errands, etc. Even if he will still cook maybe offer to make a meal (your specialty) or goodies (a basket of muffins, breakfast items). Sometimes when people are overwhelmed they don't ask for help not knowing what others are willing to help with or even what they might need help with. When my son was diagnosed with leukemia so many people offered to help with "whatever I needed" but I was so distraught and tired I really didn't know what I needed help with and I didn't want to ask for something that was too much of a burden. If someone said, "I know you've been dividing your time between the hospital and home, can I do some laundry for you?" I was much more likely to say yes than I was to open ended offers. Warm wishes to you and your family during this emotional time.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I am so sorry to hear this about your aunt.
My mother passed away from the disease 2 years ago. My father was under so much stress.
I do not know how far along your aunt is but maybe you can spend sometime talking to your aunt. That is often comforting. A dying person wants to think in the future , it gives them hope .They do not want to be reminded of theirsituation. Talk about your plans ,about your kids, ask her for advice. Take your uncle out to lunch to cheer him up.
This is actually the worse part of the whole disease. There is often a relief after the person passes because the suffering stops.
Also honor his privacy. if the family does not want anything just let them know how much you care and that may be enough.




answers from Cincinnati on

I recently lost two aunts, one after an 11-year battle with Alzheimer's, and the other after only a 2-year battle with ALS. It is a very difficult time for your uncle, and I understand the helpless feeling. Whether my suggestion will help will really depend on your uncle and aunt, but for my aunt who was suffering from ALS, we put together one of those digital picture frames filled with pictures of her smiling with various family members (we scanned in hundreds), and then threw a big party where everyone told beautiful stories about her. The goal was to show her how loved she was by everyone, and how we would never forget the good times with her. This was extremely emotional, but our aunt was up for it. You would need to find out from your family whether this would be wonderful or backfire. I wish you the best of luck.



answers from Honolulu on

**(Adding This): Also, keep in mind that if he does not keep up with daily things, such as even getting the mail or the mail is piling up... these are indications he can't cope. Something as simple as getting the mail for example, can be very hard on a grieving person... and they may not even open it or pay their bills or keep up with it. ALSO... mail will still be received, addressed to his wife, for example. And this can be real hard, just seeing it, for the grieving spouse. My Mom for example, even after my Dad died... was still getting mail, addressed to him, in the mail. This can be hard on the person. So, simple things, even the mail, can be a real real difficult thing.

Just be real observant of him... since he is a silent griever. Look out for any signs that he may not be taking care of himself, may not be taking care of his own health, not eating well and healthily, not exercising if he does, not taking an interest in daily living... making sure you look out for signs of depression.... or that he cannot handle it himself. Look out for these signs... these are "silent" symptoms of a person who needs help, but they may not reach out for help.

My Dad, was ill for a long time.. and he eventually died. What helped my Mom, was just having all of us help her with daily things... or going over paperwork that was too much for her to cope with. ALSO she participated in a "grief support group." Which helped her immensely... and she found a lot of friends there... because all of these people were going through similar situations. Keep in mind, that "grief groups" are not only for people who have a partner that has already died... but for anyone who is going through a "grieving" and a "loss" of a relationship/marriage/partner for various reasons. Attending her grief support group... was a REAL important factor, in how well my Mom coped with the enormity of the situation. And even though it has been years ago since my Dad died.... she now participates in the grief group as a facilitator... helping others in that situation. That in itself... helps her, and she feels "happy" helping others.

Perhaps as well, a pet, can also help those who are grieving. Pets often can bring solace and companionship to a person, helping them to process things and even if just to serve as a distraction, and a pet can be immensely comforting. And sometimes, a silent griever who is not real expressive, will often "talk" to their pet... thereby helping them to cope.

Mainly, a grieving person really needs help even with the most simple of daily responsibilities & cleaning & making sure things are refilled or shopping lists made out.. even someone just driving them around to do errands WITH them. It is comforting. Because when someone is "grieving".... even the most simple routine chores and errands can seem just too much and too stressful too. Because... their partner cannot be WITH them to do those things, anymore.

I am so sorry... but really, monitor and observe your Uncle, for any signs of depression or difficulty or stress... because a silent griever will not really reach out, if they are suffering or in trouble.

All the best,



answers from Indianapolis on

Sorry to hear about your Aunt's battle with IBC - three years is a remarkable fight for that diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in June 2008 - my prognosis was good, and luckily, my scans for the past year+ have been clean.

There really is no way to prepare for how people will react to the death of their spouse/mother. My reaction to my own diagnosis was much different than I would have thought.

Cards do help. But, the most important thing is letting them know today, 3 months from now, 1 year from now, etc. how much you think about them and her.

Perhaps providing gift cards to restaurants they enjoy would be helpful if it's in the budget. My in-laws would send random $25 cards for Chipotle, etc. and it helped us get through the rough spots.

Also, I'd see if you could put together something to commemorate her life (CD, book, etc) and present it to the family as a surprise for them to have her memory eternalized.

I'd also find out from your cousins if there is a charity, organization, etc. to which you can devote some of your time (for other women/men also fighting IBC or other breast cancers). The promise of hope for someone else not to have to go through it is very powerful.

Right now, the most important thing is to be there for all of them. If she's alert and can provide some direction on what she believes would be a powerful gift following her passing, perhaps that would have the greatest meaning of all.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Everyone deals with tragedy and death differently. You said that you have let your uncle and his family know you are there for them. That is all you can really do. This is not an easy time for the family and your uncle may just have to find his own way to deal with this. If he needs you he knows that you are there for him.



answers from Cleveland on

Hi just let you uncle know that you are there for him. Try to find a grief couselor in your area. Maybe the couselor could call your uncle. Your uncle might open up with someone he doesn't know.




answers from Philadelphia on

My experience has been that the care-taker often needs a break to get out of the house and do something for themselves, even if it is only for a few hours. It also provides an opportunity for you to spend time with your aunt. Suggest that he go over to someone's house for dinner or drinks while you stay with your aunt. If she is alert you can ask if she needs you to do anything or if not you can read to her or bring her music she might like. Good Luck.


answers from Allentown on

Hi, J.:
Just sit with your Aunt and listen at her bedside. That will comfort your Uncle. Just your presence is enough.

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