- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Caring for someone nearing the end of life
- Providing emotional support
Providing emotional support
The diagnosis of a terminal illness may be a crisis for family and friends. How everyone responds may depend on their relationship with the person dying and their own beliefs about death. It is natural to feel shocked, angry, scared, sad or relieved, or a combination of these emotions.
Learn more about:
- Saying goodbye
- When you don’t know what to say
- Keeping vigil
- How you can help in the final stages
- Making arrangements
You may be worried about discussing the end of life with the person who is dying because you think you’ll upset them. It may be helpful to know that people who are dying often want to talk about what is happening but are afraid the topic will upset their carer, family member or friend. Starting the conversation can be difficult, but the opportunity to share feelings can be valuable for both of you.
As the person you are caring for nears the final days of life, there are still many ways to spend time together
- sit with them without talking
- read a book
- sing a song
- share some special memory or experiences you’ve had together
- tell them that you love them and that family send their love.
For more on this, see When you don’t know what to say.
When someone is ill for some time, their family and friends often begin to grieve their death before it happens. This is known as anticipatory grief. You may find yourself wishing for the person’s life to be over. It’s also not unusual to start thinking about how you’ll cope, about other events in your life, the funeral, and so on. All of these responses and thoughts are natural and okay. It may help to speak to a health professional or counsellor about your feelings, or to call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
A life-limiting illness offers you time to say goodbye. You can encourage the person who is dying to share their feelings, and you can share your own in return. Sharing how you both feel can start important conversations that can be memorable. This is also an opportunity for you to tell the person who is dying what they mean to you and how you might remember them.
The person nearing the end of life may want to make a legacy, such as writing their life story or letters to family and friends. They may want to visit a special place or contact someone they’ve lost touch with. You can help the person with all these tasks. They are all part of the process of saying goodbye, for all of you.
Dr Megan Ritchie, Staff Specialist Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Service, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Rosemary Cavanough, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Metro South Palliative Care Service, QLD; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC; Rowena Robinson, Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia, ACT; Helena Rodi, Program Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.