You Have a Friend Sick With a Terminal Illness

You Can Offer More Than Prayers to the Sick One

Dying is one of those things you really should tell your family about in advance, if you have such knowledge ahead of time. Friends and coworkers, too. When I did it, some cried, some refused to believe it and were very positive, some expected me to be the strong one through the crisis and others... well, it’s the others that I’m most upset about.

I had to realize that death is overwhelming to some people and they don’t know what to think, let alone how to act. We do the wrong things because we don’t know what’s right to do. Nobody ever schooled us on deathbed etiquette for the patient or the loved ones, and death is just plain scary to some people. We don’t mean to be so offensive or to show our humanity like that, but we can’t help it, especially in times of deep grief. So, I hope I can help a bit toward that end.

Don't Be Surprised to Be Surprised When People Feel They're Losing Someone

It surprised me how people that weren’t really close to us jumped to help and give support. Complete strangers gave us food and warm coats and firewood and they even bought holiday gifts for my children. But, the close ones – or the ones we’d thought were our closest friends and family – pretty much freaked out or turned their backs on us. No kidding, one family member could see how expensive our problems were going to be without medical insurance, so she called us up in advance just to tell us not to turn to her for help. She’d saved her money for her, not us, and she’ll spend it the way she likes, and that’s just what she said to me. She would, however, agree to take a turn coming over to clean and cook for my family. But then she didn’t show up. She did that three times and then she finally stopped calling or having anything to do with us.


When you offer to help with housework, shopping, childcare or other chores, the people you offer it to depend on you to come through. Saying you’ll help might make you feel better about yourself at the moment, but the receivers are the ones who go without when you change your mind. When someone has a terminal illness, it’s not just the patient who has the illness. The entire family and support system have it. It changes all their lives and routines and many times it stretches them thin, and offers of help are appreciated and taken seriously. If you’ve made an offer to help or do anything for someone who’s ill, make sure you come through. If you absolutely can’t, either find someone who can and will or call in advance so people can make other arrangements.

Odd Reasons For Turning a Backside

One person refused to ever see me again, and when I asked why he said it was because he didn’t want to see me ‘that way’. I looked the same, I wasn’t grotesque, or I didn’t think I was. In fact, I thought I looked pretty normal when I wore my make up, which was most of the time. He even stopped calling after a while.

Then there’s the guy who’s a good friend, but he won’t allow me to touch him anymore...... No need to be afraid, cancer isn’t contagious. If you know someone who’s ill, don’t be afraid to call, visit, hug and touch like always. And, don’t be afraid to see them.

The kids’ aunt and uncle were taking them regularly to spend weekends at their home and have fun, until I got sick. Even Grandma stopped taking the girls once I got sick. In fact, Grandma even started trouble in the family thinking I’d die and never find out. It was the plan, I found out later, for the aunt and grandma to legally take away the girls from their dad after I die. It’s a good idea not to cause unnecessary trouble for the family of the ill person. It’s gonna leave a mark if something freaky should happen and the person survives their illness. And, if they don’t survive, it can’t be a peaceful parting if someone’s unecessarily meddling in things that are of selfish origin.

Sometimes We Find Out What We Really Mean to Others, or What We Don't Mean, Unfortunately

I had a good friend for 20 years, the one that told me she loves me. We’d babysat for each other and gone through marriages and divorces during our friendship and we (I thought) knew each other well. She found out I was sick and was suddenly so busy she didn’t even have time to visit, talk on the phone, the computer, or anything any more. Her kids were her reason not to see me. I kept asking her to go have a drink with me but her kids always have soccer, band, or emotional crises that keep her from having any sort of individual life at all. I finally told her I’m here, I stopped asking and she never bothered to try to reach me again – until a month after she thought I was dead. All she did was send an email asking, “Are you still around?”...... with no other words. It translated into, “Are you still alive?” I returned an email that said, “Yes,” with no other words.

I think some feel if they wait until you’re dead, then all they have to do is mourn and have no responsibility for dealing with what happens in between. So they wait until they think you must surely have died to try and reach you and then they mourn or feel relief that you’re still alive. Sometimes, unfortunately, they’re just curious and then are disappointed that now that they’ve called you, they’ll have to continue to ‘care’. To everyone who’s done either of these: Don’t do it again. Either never call them, or force yourself to endure something you won’t like for the sake of the person who’s dying and see them at least one more time BEFORE they’re supposed to die. You’re doing it for them and you. Their ultimate demise is about them, not about you. If they’re important to you, force yourself at least once and show it. Besides, what if they, like me, live through it and remember your actions/inactions? I don’t like some of the things I learned about people I thought I really cared about, don’t let that happen to you.

Some People Are Just Plain Ignorant and Rude

Then there’s the “friendly” cable guy who called to collect my payment. When I told him I had to make a late payment because I hadn’t worked due to illness, he scolded me and asked me what kind of example I was leaving for my kids by running up a bill I knew I wouldn’t have to pay if I was dead! If someone ill owes you money or you do collections for a living, please, at least be considerate and polite, if not nice.

The last person to upset me was the worst. She stayed in touch through the whole thing, until it was clear that I was well. Then, she suddenly didn’t have time to waste on me anymore. There’s nothing to worry about, so she’s off. Now, she’s befriending someone else who needs a friend through a tough time, and when they’re well or healed or through whatever it was - to her satisfaction - she’ll move on again. Or, come back here for companionship until she finds another needy person. These are traits of her personality, not something she did to me, but these traits made it possible for her to hurt me like that. I still needed a friend when she’d decided it was a done deal.

Don't Stop Helping the Sick Person

If someone you know is seriously ill and then they show signs of improvement or healing, keep caring. Don’t stop coming over and calling, don’t stop offering help and support. Even though the body is healing, the mind will need time and understanding to adjust back to normal. Just because they’re feeling better doesn’t mean incomes are back to normal and bills are paid, or that they won’t need anyone to talk to anymore. I remember when one absent friend called me and I told her how things were going, and she said, “What? I thought everything was okay now that you’re better?” And, sadly, if the person dies, don’t figure it’s all over and just stop giving your love and support to family members. Funerals are hard to get through, especially during such an already stressful time. Do things without being asked.

I hope this helps someone, whether the patient or a loved one. So many things are covered by hospice and therapy and support systems, but generally people aren’t sure of how to act around an ill person. Just be yourself, but don’t let them down because you think they’re going to die anyway. They may not.

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Comments or Questions? Feel free to speak up here! 2 comments

iListen profile image

iListen 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

My heart leaps and weeps reading this. I had a similar experience after an accident that left me partially disabled. As each friend faded away I analyzed myself. What did I do wrong this time? I'm thankful for the wisdom you shared and I hope this makes a difference for someone!


SandyMcCollum profile image

SandyMcCollum 4 years ago Author

Thank you very much, you validated all I went through during this time. Thanks for reading iListen. :)

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