Supporting a loved one with terminal illness can be very challenging. Most common thoughts are likely to be; ‘what do I say?’, ‘What do I do?’, ‘How can I support?’ and ‘How can I support my loved one?’ Apart from having these thoughts, you can be concerned about your relationship and how this might change.  

In this blog I will be sharing some thoughts and ways on how to support your loved one who is going through a terminal illness. 

1. Focus on your relationship strengths

The first thing that might come to mind is about your relationship with your loved one. This does not necessarily change because the person who is ill, still has the same needs and desires. It is more likely that the relationship does not change if you build on your relationship strengths. 

2. Communicate with your loved one

It is very important that you continue to communicate with your loved ones because the person who is ill still wants to be treated like a normal person. The person is still the same person, but with the diagnosis, that is; facing a terminal illness.  

3. Listen

It is important to let your loved one know that you are willing to listen and to support your loved one. Even if you feel that you cannot do anything, don’t underestimate your presence. Invite your loved one to talk about their fears and listen to these fears and their needs. However, never try to replace a therapist or counsellor. If needed, accompany your loved one to a professional for support. 

4. Don’t pretend or assume that your loved one will come to terms with death.

Either than this, it would be a desirable outcome if your loved one will learn to live as fully as possible with the presence of the illness. 

5. Invite your loved one to talk about their amazing stories, their memories.

Your loved one has a lot to share and this helps to think more positively. 

6. Talk to your loved one about their preferences of how they want to live their life.

Invite your loved one to make a wish list. Encourage and support them to attain their wishes. Don’t push your desires ahead of theirs. 

7. Offer to accompany them if they want to settle legal or financial paperwork.

Also ask your loved one if they wish to remain at home when time arrives. Ask your loved one about the people they want near them. 

8. Respect your loved one’s dignity

Check if they want to be assisted by palliative care assistants. It’s  important to treat your loved one with dignity especially when assisting with bathing or changing. You can boost their confidence by making them feel good about their appearance if your loved one takes great self-importance in their appearance. 

Keep in mind that you are facing challenges as well, especially to accept and to come to terms that you are losing someone you love. Also, remember to seek professional support so that you deal with the loss of your loved one and continue to be followed through the grieving process. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Rachel Osmond is a Family Therapist with Willingness who works with individuals, couples and families. She also has experience with children and adolescents. 


Crossroads: Hospice and Palliative Care. (2018). ‘How to Support a Loved one with a Terminal Illness’. Retrieved on the 26th February 2022, from

Mayo Clinic. (2020). Terminal illness: Supporting a terminally ill loved one. Retrieved on the 26th February 2022, from