Your thoughts, please - terminal illness


A very close friend of our family has a terminal illness, and she contacted us today to let us know she is going downhill very fast. She has had several aggressive cancers and she may not last the week. She lives in my parents’ home town a few hours away. My siblings and I are taking off Thursday and Friday from our respective jobs to go home.

Although I am in my 30’s I’ve never had anyone I’ve been particularly close to die before, and this lady is a very good friend to my Mom and my sister, particularly. I am not sure how to communicate with her when I see her - no false but well-intentioned statements like, “Oh you’ll be fine,” for example, when we all know she won’t. Of course I am and have been praying for her, but I don’t really have any experience with this kind of situation, where the dying person is quite conscious and is someone whom I know well. I realize there’s not much I can do when I’m home, but I know my Mom and sister are going to be a mess and I want to try to give them support also.

If anyone could share a few thoughts I’d appreciate it. Thanks.


Is your family friend Catholic or Christian even? You can pray with them if you are comfortable. I have friends who just went through this and their uncle died today. They all came and were all around him at his bedside. The kids drew on his feet with markers, pictures of the whole family. Everyone sat around and listened to him… not sure what else goes on but wanted to share what I have with you. God Bless.


Listen to her. Laugh with her, cry with her, hug her, sing with her. Above all, pray with her.

A Christian should not fear death.


I lost both of my parents and a really close friend all within 9 months of each other (Mom in July 2008, friend in March 2009, Dad in April 2009), so I’m as used to death as anyone can be, I guess. Only my friend was awake before she died, so these suggestions might be moot.
It is okay to cry, but when the person is awake, try to talk about memories and let the person express their fear. In my friend’s case, we talked about the trouble we caused in college. At other times, we would have deep heart-to-hearts. I would just let the person take control of the conversation.
Music can also be very powerful. When my Mom was in the hospital, I would hold her hand and sing to her(she had very bad heart attack, and they sedated her to keep her under).
I hope this helps. I know this has to be a very hard time for you and your family. :hug1:


Before my cousin died from cancer, I brought an album from when we were children and all sat around looking at the old pictures.

Some joke, some go into a coma, some see things. Be prepared for the latter. It is not unusual and rather comforting. Some see relatives ready to take them and some feel they are going somewhere. And there are times when the family whispers to the patient, when she’s very close to the end, that it is okay to go.


CountrySinger mentioned her own experience with her mother being sedated…sedation is very common when one is reaching the end, and it may be that your family friend seems to be resting a lot.

Tell her about something you saw on your drive over. Ask if she’d like the curtains drawn. Tell her about your prayers for her. Tell her you are glad to see her…and also, listen.

I have worked in nursing homes and a hospital; nothing more sad than when someone dies alone, so kudos to you and yours for gathering 'round and being so supportive. The frst time I sat with a dying person, I was 19 years old and didn’t know what to do…we filled out the next day’s menu card and talked about the cafeteria’s offerings…I fully knowing he wouldn’t make it to tomorrow.

Sometimes, it is the mundane things…you’ll do great. Keep your rosary on you, it is great comfort.


Yes, I’ve had similar experiences as I too work in the medical field. I was young as well when I had my first experience being by someone dying, I was probably around 19-20 years old.

Death is not a scary thing. It is if you let it be inside your head. Death is a part of life and something that even Jesus Christ endured. It is not evil and dying people should not be avoided like the plague.

OP, just your very presence will be comforting to the dying person. You don’t have to worry about saying anything at all! When I am with a terminal patient, I usually just keep my mouth shut and my ears and heart open. I make them comfortable, do whatever they ask me and above all just listen to them! Also, just pray, pray and pray some more for the repose of her soul. Honestly, it’s a blessing that her cancer is fast moving. I’ve seen people die slowly from cancer and it’s an awful suffering. She also has foreknowledge of her death, which is also a blessing so she can get her “affairs” in order which many people do not get the opportunity to do.

It is so great that she will be surrounded by family at the end. Sounds like God has blessed her in so many ways already before her afterlife. Prayers for you and your family and your friend!


Thanks everyone for your thoughts, and for your prayers. I’ll be checking this post the next few days for some guidance and so on, I really appreciate it.


I just lost my dad a little over a month ago. He was diagnosed with cancer in late June and passed away in late August. I, like yourself, hadn’t lost any family members or close friends until the last 5 years or so. In that time I’ve lost both of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother (this year), an uncle I was very close to, an aunt, and a relative whom I was very fond of.

As someone pointed out before, death is not a scary thing. Sure, no one wants to lose a loved one, but to me there is no such thing as “death”, I just see it as a part of life, and only a temporary separation. I keep my beloved dead alive in my heart by remembering them, and knowing that I will see them again sooner than I imagine.

Anyways, going back to your family friend, I think you should be open about discussing death with her. I’d ask what her thoughts and beliefs on death? Is she religious? Is she content with her life? She is scared? etc. I think many terminal people have these thoughts, but no one to talk to about them. As no one really wants to bring these sensitive topics up.


When my mom was dying of cancer, I know she just appreciated having someone around who was not afraid. People don’t know what to say or do and so they avoid making the effort to see someone who is dying. Believe me, it was hard on me, but I knew the benefit of being there would outweigh my discomfort. My mom wasn’t particularly religious, but she did request baptism about 3 months before she passed away. One day I just asked her, “What do you think heaven will be like?” It really surprised her, but opened the door for a wonderful conversation. During her last couple of weeks, I painted her fingernails…something that made her really happy.



In this case the lady in question is Catholic, but her husband is a Protestant minister and she sometimes blends the two, so she is a little bit unorthodox. I’m not family and I will leave it up to her conscience and the priest, assuming she will ask for Extreme Unction, to address whatever it is she needs to say. I’m praying for her in this regard.

Continued thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, they are teaching me a great deal. Be assured that I am remembering all of you and your intentions in my prayers this evening.


Thank you everyone for your advice and prayers. My aunt died Friday morning, we had the chance to say goodbye to her the night before, and her funeral is tomorrow. Be assured I am remembering all of your kindness and charity in my prayers.


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