Ways to cope while visiting someone who has a prolonged critical illness.

As a family member or a significant person in a patient’s life, you may experience feelings of helplessness or loss of control when a loved one is in the ICU/HAU. 

Download our resources below to help inform you about what you need to know and how you can help your loved one:

Below are ways to help you cope while visiting someone who has a prolonged critical illness:

Purchase a notebook

Divide it into three separate areas. In the first section, write down the names of the doctors, social workers and any other care provider who is involved in your loved one’s care.

In the second section, write down your questions. 

You may forget information you have been told or how you were to follow up on information you have received. You may also need to hear information repeated.

The third section is your journal. Many families find this a helpful coping method.

Take care of yourself

Stressful situations combined with sleeplessness will eventually wear on you and make you prone to illness.

Try to eat healthy foods rather than convenient snack foods. Whenever possible get up and walk around.

Exercise and getting enough sleep is important to your emotional health. Do not feel you have to be available every moment.

Personal coping kit

Put together a coping kit that may contain pictures, books, magazines, healthy snacks, tooth brush, small pillow or other things that may make you comfortable during long days.

Identify a family spokesperson

We know access to information is one of a family’s most important needs. Having a family spokesperson eliminates frequent calls to the ICU/HAU, which can pull the nurse away from the patient’s bedside.

The role of the spokesperson (not the person with the primary relationship to the patient) will be to contact all the friends and relatives who need updated information each day.

It might also be helpful to change your answering machine message to provide daily medical updates.

This could save you from making several phone calls per day and will give you some time to rest.

Support at home

As you spend many hours in the ICU/HAU supporting your loved one, matters may go unattended at home.

Make sure you delegate someone to pick up the newspapers and mail. Ask someone you trust to make sure all your bills are being paid. Most importantly, make sure you have someone to look after your children if necessary.


The hospital also has language interpreters. If you require interpreter services, speak to the nurse in charge.

Hospital resources

The unit social worker or ICU/HAU manager can assist you with many issues. Do not hesitate to ask if you need help.