How to help someone who is dying

We asked Sweet Louise support coordinator Sarah Thomson to provide some tips that could assist anyone who is supporting a terminally ill person, whether it’s a family member, friend or customer. This is what she said.

People living with a terminal illness are often at very different places on the health spectrum. At one end are those who can still look after themselves, get out and enjoy experiences. However, at the other end of the scale, termed as “end of life”, the person may be unable to carry out any activities of daily living and need full nursing care.

It is always really good to remember people who have a terminal illness often have a changed perspective of what is important to them. They will let you know their concerns because it is really important that they try to fix things in the time they have left.

They will most likely have regular hospital and other health appointments. This means they can be difficult to get hold of and are not as available as they used to be.

They may be feeling a range of emotions. It can be quite common that they are angry about being ill and if this comes across do not take it personally.

These are some of the ways you can assist a terminally ill person.  

  • Ask them what it is that is causing their main concern right now and how can you help?
  • Offer to take them to appointments or errands as it can be hard to concentrate on simple things like driving when you have so much going on in your mind.
  • A common issue for those living with a terminal illness is the extreme ongoing tiredness that may either be constant or come in waves throughout the day. Providing a meal or baking is a great way of reaching out or just a bit of housework can make a huge difference to someone who is exhausted.
  • Just being present. You don’t necessarily have to talk or do anything, just be there to share a cuppa, talk about the weather and sit in the sun.

A Guide for Carers  provides a single resource on the range of government support available  in a caring role including information on topics such as financial help, help at home, respite care, needs assessment, transport and travel, and what your rights are.

Tips for people in customer service:

  • Actively listen to what they have to say. Ask them what their understanding of the situation is, it will give you the best overall picture and give you phrases that they are comfortable with you using back to them.
  • Use the client’s first name to confirm that personal touch and reinforce that you have been listening.
  • Listen to the cue the person is giving you. If it sounds like they do not want to talk right now ask if you can talk to them at a time when it is OK for them.
  • It is not easy having emotionally charged conversations but remain professional, this is a business call. Use your normal tone of voice and try not to be overly sympathetic.
  • Be efficient and clear with your questioning. Know your policies well. Confirm what you can and cannot do for them.
  • Do not be afraid of the silence in a conversation. Try saying something like: “Take your time, it’s OK, let me know when you are ready to continue or we can pick this up again when you’re ready”.
  • Try and leave the conversation on a positive note that is suitable for the situation. Summarize what you have discussed and confirm what you are going to do for them with clear time frames. It is not your job to refer or counsel a distressed person.

The Cancer Society has a very comprehensive range of services that you can access on line or call The Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

Remember this is not your illness. You may need to talk to a friend of colleague after the call to debrief and that’s OK but don’t hold on to someone else’s grief.

Sovereign is proud to partner with Sweet Louise, a nationwide charity supports people with incurable breast cancer and their families.