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How to Support a Family Member with a Terminal Illness

Coping with a terminal illness is hard for the whole family. When a friend or family member is diagnosed with a serious disease or illness, it can be difficult to know how to help. From offering practical help to emotional support, there are many ways you can help someone who is seriously ill, but they may not feel ready to accept help just yet. The best thing you can do is let them know you’re there for them, and visit regularly if you don’t live in the same house.

Your relative could feel confused, angry and upset, and may behave differently towards you as they accept their diagnosis. This is normal and usually passes, so don’t retract your support when they need it the most. Here are some ways you can help your loved one throughout their illness.

Hire a carer

Many people feel obliged to step up and care for their relatives in times like these, and become the primary carer. However, there are many benefits to hiring a professional carer with experience in terminal illnesses. You’ll have extra support around the house, and your relationship with your loved one doesn’t have to change too much. If you have a home care worker, you can both look forward to the time you spend together which will be separate from the palliative care provided. Your loved one may not be comfortable with you having to complete some personal care tasks for them, even though you would do them with dignity and respect.

Do what they enjoy

When a person has little time left, it’s essential to give them as many happy and memorable experiences as possible. What do they consider the pleasures in life? From visiting the garden centre, going for a walk in the local park or watching their favourite TV show, make sure you plan lots of things they enjoy and can look forward to. Even making your loved one’s favourite meal can be a nice gesture they will appreciate. Also be aware that they might like some time on their own too, to read or take part in another quiet activity, as lots of visitors in one room can be overwhelming.

Be a good listener

The most important thing to do is to be there for your loved one when they need to talk. Lend your ears if and when they are needed, but don’t force conversation – your relative may not be ready to talk about their feelings yet. If the person blocks out worries and fears for a long period and refuses to talk about them, feelings can become impossible to deal with. Depression can also affect people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, if they feel like they can’t cope. If they don’t want to talk to you then suggest a doctor or a counsellor, or a support group so they can meet people in a similar situation.

Dealing with a terminal illness is difficult for everyone involved, so remember to take care of your own wellbeing too.

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