How to Be There For, And Support, A Terminally Ill Person


It is beyond painful to learn that someone you care about has a terminal illness. You want to help, but you're afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and somehow making the situation worse. It's also hard to watch your friend go through physical changes such as hair falling out, weight loss and pain. As hard as it may be fore you, though, your friend desperately needs your support at this time. If you're not sure how to proceed, the following ideas may help.

Treat Your Loved One As You Normally Would

When people are dying, others often want to treat them with kid gloves. You may find yourself avoiding kidding around like you usually do because you're afraid that humor is inappropriate. You may also be afraid to invite your friend out to do activities you're previously enjoyed together because you're not sure you're friend is up to it. It's best, though, not to change the way you interact with your friend. Go ahead and suggest the things you always do together. You can add, "If you're not up for that, perhaps you'd like to do something else."

Offer to Listen

Some people with a terminal illness want to talk about their physical conditions and their emotional stresses. Others would prefer to avoid the issue altogether. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a terminal illness, so just let your friend know that you are available if he or she wants to talk. If your loved one does want to talk, allow him or her to speak freely. Don't judge your loved one's feelings and avoid offering overly simplistic advice. Sometimes creating a safe space where your loved one can talk is the most important thing you can do.

When in Doubt, Ask

Sometimes, you may not be sure how to proceed where your terminally ill loved one is concerned. If you don't know what will be the most helpful to him or to her, then ask. For instance, you may say something like, "You look a little tired today. Would you still like to go to lunch today, or would you like me to go pick something up and bring it back here?"

Being friends with someone who is terminally ill can be a real challenge. It is hard to remain close to someone knowing that you are soon going to lose him or her. If you make the effort to stay close to your loved one and offer what help you can, though, the time you spend together can be a precious gift to both of you.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Be There For, And Support, A Terminally Ill Person," in, February 18, 2016, (accessed August 10, 2022).