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You go through stages of transition, too

Going through a serious health crisis stirs up a variety of feelings for the patient and those who love the patient.

This is quite normal, but not always easy to confront. Sometimes it helps to know that you don’t have to go through this alone. Your loved one's health care team can help you connect with support groups, community resources and counselors, when needed.

Perhaps you have heard of the stages of grief that Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spoke of when people experience a loss in their lives. Sometimes it helps to know what you feel, what others have felt, what you're going through, and what others have gone through before you.

Try to think of the "stages" as a circle — something that you may visit again and again as you move toward acceptance.

Shock and denial

"No, this can't be happening to my husband…to my wife…to my father or mother!"

You may even feel that the diagnosis is wrong. "Dad isn't really that sick." "Mom doesn't look like her heart is failing." "Maybe the doctors have made a mistake."

It is normal to want to make a problem seem smaller than it is. Keep talking to family and friends. Staying close will help you to adjust.


You may feel angry at the health care team, at the patient, at God, or at other family members.

"Why did this have to happen to Mom?" "Dad is too young for this!" "Someone did something wrong at the hospital."

You may feel angry at the patient, who isn't acting appreciative of your efforts to cook differently, support new exercise efforts, and otherwise help in recovery.


You may try to cure your loved one through good intentions. This stage in the grief process rarely lasts very long because you soon recognize it's useless.

"If Mom lives, I'll never smoke another cigarette." "Oh please let my husband get better. I promise I'll knock on doors for the American Heart Association."

Despite your good intentions and best efforts, bad things (like heart disease) still happen to us. Trying to bargain away this fact is useless.


Denial, anger and bargaining are attempts to avoid confronting the intense emotional pain you feel at the loss of your hopes, your dreams and your loved one's health.

Don't be surprised if you feel like crying at the most unexpected times and for the most insignificant reasons. Some people sob silently — they experience intense sadness, but do not express it in tears.

Intense feelings of sadness must be allowed to run their course. Be aware of feelings of sadness that cripple or hinder your day-to-day life:

  • drastic changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • a decreased ability to concentrate
  • exhaustion or listlessness
  • eating too much or too little
  • feeling a sense of worthlessness
  • extreme feelings of guilt or remorse: "I shouldda, oughtta, hadda, etc." Try not to blame yourself for your loved one's lifestyle choices. Try to direct your energy away from blaming yourself and toward supporting a healthy lifestyle now.


Try to be patient and gentle with yourself as you face the difficulty of the variety of changes you and your loved one are going through.

As time passes and sadness lifts, you will regain a sense of proportion and balance. This will not happen overnight. It will take several months to transition from the old way to a new way, and to accept a new way of doing things.

Remember, you can never go back to the "old normal," but must instead look for ways to create a "new normal."

Try to learn as much as you can about your loved one's condition. With knowledge comes strength and an ability to cope with limitations and symptoms. It takes time to learn to trust life again. Try not to be too impatient.

Once you have a more balanced sense of what your loved one can and cannot do you can begin to set more realistic goals for your new life together. This process of reassessing and rebuilding is characteristic of the final stage in the grief process: acceptance.

There is life after heart disease and the choice is always yours.



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts