Family Caregiver Guide: Receiving Bad News about an Illness

You are probably reading this because you have received some bad news about your loved-one’s health.

It may be that s/he was previously healthy and is now ill or your loved-one may have had a chronic illness, which is entering a new and challenging phase. Regardless, your daily routines have been altered and your lives has been disrupted and perhaps forever changed. Beyond the natural sadness accompanying bad news, everything seems so disorderly and chaotic with numerous unanswered questions.

  • What is going to happen next? Why are they doing so many tests? Who are all these doctors and nurses?
  • Why is each person saying something slightly different?
  • Do these doctors even talk to each other to figure out the treatment plan?
  • Who is the main doctor and for how long?
  • How do you navigate the complex medical bureaucracy?
  • What immediate and long-term changes are in store for your family, as a result of this illness?


You may find it difficult to understand what is going on with your loved-one and overwhelmed by all the decisions that have to be made. The healthcare system can be very confusing.

For some patients with a serious illness modern medicine may be able to provide a cure, enabling them to get back to being “as good a new.” But for many, this will not be possible. The challenge is to find a new balance in your lives. Finding and creating order amidst the chaos of serious illness is both a matter of practicality and something most people feel they need to do so they can cope with stress.

Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is an illness that persists for a long period of time. The term "chronic" comes from the Greek chronos meaning time.

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, a chronic illness is one lasting 3 months or more. Hypertension, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and lung disease are some examples of chronic illness.