How can I support my friend/family member?

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How can I support my friend/family member?

How can I support my friend or family member?

Understanding emotions and feelings

People need time to work through the pain that comes from loss. Grief is a process, rather like going on a journey without a map. There is no formula for what should happen.

It will be helpful to the person and their family to know you’ll be there to support them, whatever comes along.

The person will be learning to live with and express their feelings, such as sadness, anger, disbelief, fear and loneliness. Be prepared to listen and recognise their feelings. This gives them dignity – they will feel that you accept them as they are.

It is sad to see changes in someone you know well. Value your relationship and treat the person who is ill as you always have, with warmth and concern. This will help you as well as them. Just be yourself. This is a sad time but it can also be fulfilling.

Understanding the experience of living with a terminal condition

Everyone’s experience is different.

Generally, though, people with a terminal condition make gradual adjustments to the way they live – often with a great deal of uncertainty. They keep hope alive and continue to set goals. They may want to explore what it means to be dying and test ideas on you.

Be prepared to listen. Every person’s journey is one they have to make as an individual. You can help make this journey a little less lonely.

Your friend’s life might have changed but that doesn’t mean they have. Listen to them and learn to accept their understanding of the new situation. The most valuable thing you can give is your continued support.

Managing health

Care provided by a range of health professionals will help manage the person’s health and the symptoms and side effects they experience, such as exhaustion, nausea and weight loss. Health professionals can also help with emotional wellbeing, for the person, their family and carers.

The aim is for the person to live each day as well as they can to fulfil their wishes.

Social activities

The person will want to remain in touch and feel part of the world. Help them avoid isolation by adapting social activities to suit.

Find out their best time of day, and plan to visit or take them out when they’re feeling most like company.


Many people living with a terminal condition want to keep working, making the most of their time. Others may work part-time or from home. Support their decision and then if they have to leave work, keep up your friendship by phone or use email to stay in touch.

What can you say?

The person you know will want you to continue to speak with them as an equal.  Do not worry that you will say the wrong thing or that you will both get emotional – just be there to talk.

Encourage memories and value the explorations of friendship they bring. These may be ways for the person to say goodbye. You will always be glad of these conversations.

What can you say to the family?

Let the family know how much you value their loved one and how you support what they are doing.  Offer to help in whatever way you can. Let them know that you feel for them.

What can you do?

Just your willingness to be there is half the battle. Your friendship prevents isolation. Emotional support comes from remembering the person has not changed and letting them know that your friendship has not changed either.

You can make a difference by:

  • offering your support
  • showing your respect
  • following their lead
  • asking how you can help

Accepting practical help can be hard at first.  Allow the person and their family to make the decisions, and fall in with them.

You can give help in many ways – by cooking or gardening, providing books or DVDs, picking up the kids from school or assisting with visits for treatment.

Your role is to try to alleviate the family’s stress. You can help by being a good listener and making practical suggestions:

  • how about I drive you to your next hospital visit?
  • why don’t I do the shopping for you?

Being observant also helps – the washing up needs doing, the mowing needs doing.  Sometimes it is good to just do it.

Remember to give yourself some ‘downtime’, ensuring that you too have some way of expressing your feelings and relaxing.  It is not an easy time.

After death – what can you say to the family and carers?

Even when a death is expected it comes as a shock. It is even harder if people stay away or do not say anything.  Just be yourself – ‘I am sorry this has happened’, ‘I am really sad for you’.

What can you do to show you care?

There is no timeline for grief and no solution to fix it. The process of grief is actually part of healing. Hang in there with the family and ensure your help meets their changing needs.

How will you care for yourself?

Value the relationship you have had. Take the time to grieve.  Remain close to your friends and family for support. Your kindness and compassion have helped others and enriched your life as well.  A good friend is one of the greatest benefits of being human. You have done all you could.

Who can help?

You are not alone. You can benefit from the collective wisdom of many who have shared your journey.

Carer Advisory and Counselling Service

T: 1800 242 636.