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DECEMBER 15, 1999


When Illness Makes Your Business the Family's Sole Support
A woman with a desperately ill child sees her husband's health fail, too

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An author and business consultant has been corresponding with me about her efforts to cope with an entrepreneur's nightmare — running a business while caring for two seriously ill family members. Here's her edited story:

"I have always been a workaholic. For 20 years, my husband and I worked about 200 hours a week combined. Then, in my early forties, we were surprised with our only child. He has been my greatest blessing — and my biggest challenge. Our baby has a life-threatening ailment that requires constant hospitalization and close supervision. I have a part-time nanny, but I am responsible for his care half the week. Even with a nanny, I can suddenly lose an entire week of work when he's hospitalized. I'm terrified of losing my baby, but I also feel terribly guilty because sometimes I'm just furious about having my work interrupted once again.

"To compound my difficulties, my husband has also become very ill in the last six months. He's always been our Rock of Gibraltar. He has earned a substantial income and was previously healthy. He is now quite debilitated — his physicians suspect multiple sclerosis — and in a dark depression, completely unable to care for us. I'm scared about what is happening with him, and I'm also terribly lonely. I have lost my husband at the time I needed him the most. My publisher expects me to turn in my new book in a month. I don't know how I'll get it done. I'm panicking. What do I do?"

First, stem the panic. You need every ounce of energy and courage you can muster. Tap whatever source of solace you have — religious faith, friends, family, or professional counseling. Can the hospital or doctors refer you to help? Train yourself to not think too far into the future. You must get through each day. When your mind dwells on the "what ifs," try to focus on something affirmative.

And sleep, whenever you can. Without sleep, everything will be harder. Let work be a salvation, not a torment. It will restore you to do something you can control. Your book deadline is probably negotiable. Look at it as a target. Communicate to your publisher that you may not be on schedule because of a family crisis.

Last, don't feel guilty about being angry at your family. That doesn't mean you don't love your child and husband or that you care more about work than about them. It is a natural reaction to such a catastrophic sequence of events.

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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