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What To Do When A Loved One Is Terminally Ill

Updated: May 20, 2022

The harsh reality of a loved one being diagnosed with terminal illness is life changing. You are not alone if you're not quite sure about what to do or how to talk to your loved one about their illness. I have worked closely with people who have reached out to me for support when their loved one received a dreadful diagnosis. Today, in this third and last part of a series of blogs on terminal illness, I would like to share my experience on how to support a loved one with terminal illness.

First of all, I ask people to let the news sink in. Sometimes, spontaneous actions or conversations can cause more damage than relief. Take some time to experience the various emotions that you feel. Try to organize your thoughts and prioritize the things that matter the most to you and your loved one.

If it's any solace at all, know that you are not alone. There are many other people going through a similar situation. Coming to terms with the impending death of a loved one is not easy. Think of it this way, at least getting a diagnosis and prognosis has given you the opportunity to prepare for your goodbyes. Here are some of the things that could help your loved one.

  1. Try to cope with your own emotions and don't be shy to ask for help and support to do this

  2. Try to connect with your loved one's family and friends. Work together as a team, support each other and in turn support your loved one

  3. Spread the word appropriately

  4. Communicate effectively, be direct and ask your loved one what they want from you

  5. Learn to become a good listener, if you aren't one already. Sometimes, all a person needs is to vent or have a shoulder to cry on

  6. Sometimes, a terminal illness can change a loved one's personality. Accept these changes and be compassionate

  7. If your loved one is too exhausted or just doesn't have the will to research their end of life options or learn more about heir condition, offer to do it for them

  8. Educate yourself about your loved one's condition and the possible changes expected in their physical, mental and emotional states. This might also help you understand what they might be going through and appreciate the course of the illness

  9. Respect your loved one's decisions. In my opinion, it is best not to offer solutions or opinions unless you've specifically been asked to

  10. Try to prepare yourself for the inevitable and draw up a plan for next steps

  11. If you feel comfortable enough, have conversations about death and let your loved one know that they are free to let go and start their next journey

  12. Many of us are not prepared for the actual moment of death, even after countless conversations and trying to prepare for it. When it happens, take your time to come to terms with it

  13. After your loved one's death, take your time to heal and ask for help if you need it. Consider reaching out to a grief counsellor

We know how challenging it is to have a loved one with terminal illness. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.


Healthcare Consultant, in4MED

The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.


AARP - What to say to someone who's very sick

Approaching a terminal ill patient in denial

Advanced illness: holding on and letting go

The Bereavement Authority of Ontario

*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.

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