How to support a terminally ill family member or friend

As a family member or a friend of a terminally ill person it is not unusual to feel helpless and at loss and not to know what to do. Our first feelings include the pain of the pending loss of your loved one. However, what you need to know is that they are still with you now. There is much that you can do to add quality to both of your lives.

Most often at this time, the goal of aggressive care against a disease has been replaced by the pusuit of comfort through palliative care.There are no hard fast rules as a person lives out their life. Palliative and Hospice care.* «Neither hastens or postpones death.» A terminally ill person is living and the quality of their life is paramount.

Consider these guidelines to help you to understand how this can be one of the most meaningful times of your life. Your presence providing comfort,support,and unconditional love is your last gift to one another.


Step 1

Being there

Being sensitive to the person and the family of a person who is terminally ill is essential. It is wise to be flexible with visiting and to adjust the length of time accordingly. Those in the early stage of an illness may be more receptive to your visits.

Do not be afraid to touch, hug,or kiss an ill person. Love is good medicine and the terminally ill person needs to know you care about them.

Make it clear that you will be looking in on them with visits and phone calls. Send cards frequently, as mail is often the highlight of their day.

Provide them with your phone number. A phone number like a good book, it is a concrete reality and shows your on going caring support.

Step 2

Caring for the caregiver

Emotional and physical fatigue is common for a caregiver. They are often at risk for illness and need to be rescued occasionally from the intensity of their role.

Both men and women fill caregiving roles. There is an advantage in finding a support group with other caregivers. They share common problems, and nurture each other in their common bond.This helps dilute the intensity that caregivers often live with everyday.

Offer to cover the care of the ill patient so that the caregiver can visit friends or go out for a day shopping and taking care of him or herself.

Make prepared meals that gives them a break from cooking and nourishes them,as they seldom take care of themselves

Don’t forget the cookies that they may be able to enjoy together.

Step 3

Filling unmet needs

At this time of life it is not unusual for a person to want to see or talk to old friends or return to a former church, synagogue or place of worship.

Adding the support of church members and a pastoral visit is often comforting to a terminal patient. Often they provide a sounding board for things that are too difficult to talk about with those close to them.

Had they been planning to take marriage vows ? Have a wedding at their bedside.

Living for the terminally ill is about meaningful moments.

Listen closely and consider every opportunity to help them achieve any goals. Often a terminally ill person will share their feelings on the importance of reaching an important date. It may be an impending wedding or the birth of a grandchild. This often keeps them focused on living .

Step 4

Letting go

As a terminal illness progresses and the quality of their life is gone. Those who are ill are preparing themselves to die. It is not unusual for them to sleep more and start to distance themselves from others. In hospice care, this is an expected course and family and friends need to allow this process. It is often a painful but necessary step with some comfort in knowing that you have always been there for them.

You should not be alone at this time but with the support of professionals. Visiting nurses and the Hospice staff will in most cases be on call for you. Their expertise is essential to comfort for you and your family.

Things Needed
• Affairs in order.
• A living will that expresses a person’s wishes regarding end of life issues.
• Power of attorney that provides the name of the individual that a person has chosen to make decisions on a persons behalf.
• Support services available if needed. Visiting nurses and hospice care .
• Bedside supplies include tissues, water, and call bell.
• Personal hygiene supplies, bedside commode, urinal, walker, oxygen supplies if needed.

Tips & Warnings
• The normal response during a terminal illness is to have some problems with anxiety,agitation and depression caused by the progression of illness and the challenges related to their management.
• It is essential for the terminally ill to be under good medical care. Keep contact numbers close at hand.
• Bathing and hygiene can easily be accomplished using wash cloths soaked in a mild soap and water solution and heated in microwave. Two minutes or less. Use caution to prevent risk of burns.
• Be alert to the changing needs of the ill person and the family.
• Be flexible with visits and offers of assistance.
• Be alert to the fact that if they are having pain or other types of discomfort .It may be better to visit at another time.
• Use creative opportunities to do things that are pleasurable.
• Go for a walk or use a wheelchair.
• Sit under a favorite tree.
• Arrange to listen to music of choice. Or see movies or TV.
• Eat ice cream or sherbet together
• Offer to read, or use library audio books.
• Sit in silence at the bedside they will know you are there.


Add a comment



Text commentary: