You might be supporting your husband, partner, father, relative or friend as they approach the end of their life. When we talk about your loved one on this page, we are talking about this person

Any support you can give your loved one is really important. You might help them with practical things like getting up and dressed, washing and eating. Or you might take on tasks that they can’t do any more, such as managing finances or doing jobs around the house. And you may provide friendship and support. 

Looking after someone who is dying is tough – physically, emotionally and financially. At times you might feel helpless or overwhelmed. It's important to look after yourself and get support for yourself. 

Looking after my loved one

There are lots of things you can do to help your loved one.

Getting information 

Some men with prostate cancer feel uncertain about the future and worry about what might happen. Finding out what to expect can help you and your loved one prepare. It may also help to answer questions you have about physical problems, such as pain. Read more about what to expect. 

Planning ahead

It can be difficult to know what care is available for you and your loved one. Thinking and planning ahead can help you and your loved one get the support you need. Read more about thinking and planning ahead.

Spending time together 

Spending time together can help you and your loved one feel less isolated or anxious. Some men don’t feel up to talking or doing anything very active. But even if you're just around, it will let him know that you are there for him

Talking about what is happening

Talking about feelings can help get things out in the open and make you both feel less anxious. There is no right or wrong thing to say – sometimes you might just need to listen. Letting someone talk shows you want to understand what they’re going through.

Some people find they need some help to open up and say how they are feeling. Talking to another person, such as a friend, health professional or counsellor, might be helpful.

If he doesn’t want to talk

Some men prefer to cope on their own and don’t want to talk. You might find this frustrating or upsetting.

Some men may be going through the process of accepting that their treatment isn’t working. They might feel disbelief, denial and shock. They might find it hard to take in information about their cancer or accept help.

You could let him know that you are there for him if he needs anything or decides that he does want to talk about things.

If he does start to talk, try to help him think about what he wants, rather than telling him what he should do. You can do this by asking questions and listening to what he says.

Remember that you are dealing with your own feelings too and may need to talk about them with someone other than your loved one.

Supporting someone in the last few days

It can help to prepare for physical changes your loved one might have, such as sleeping more or changes in their breathing. Read more about what to expect in the last few days.

There are things you can do to help, like talking calmly to him or holding his hand. Read more about things you can do to help in the guide from the National Council of Palliative Care, What to expect when someone important to you is dying.

Supporting someone in the last few days of their life can be upsetting and stressful. It can also be very tiring. It’s important to look after yourself as well as your loved one.

Talking to my loved one’s doctor or nurse

You might want to ask questions about your loved one’s cancer or treatment. But you may not feel able to ask about these things in front of your loved one. He can give his doctor or nurse permission to talk about his health with you.

If you want to talk to his doctor or nurse without his knowledge, they can listen to your concerns. They may not be able to talk about his specific condition but they will be able to give you general information. They might need to tell him about the conversation if it affects their care and treatment of him.

Read more about talking to someone else’s doctor or nurse on the NHS Choices website.  

Looking after myself

You may feel you need to be brave and strong for your loved one, and not think about your own worries and needs. But it’s important to look after yourself so that you can support him and cope in the long term.

Talking to someone

Talking to someone can help you share your worries and fears and make you feel less alone. For example, you could talk to a family member or a close friend.

You might find it useful to talk to someone with personal experience of prostate cancer who may understand what you’re going through. You could find your nearest support group, join our online community, or connect with someone through our one-to-one support service.

Some people find it helpful talking to a counsellor who specialises in supporting families and friends of people approaching the end of their life. Ask your GP or your loved one’s doctor or nurse if they can refer you to a counsellor. You could also see a private counsellor – to find out more, contact the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy.

You can also speak to our Specialist Nurses. They’ll listen to your worries and questions in confidence. They can also give you information about other services that may be useful.

Taking time for myself

It’s important to take time for yourself so that you don’t get too tired and are able to cope in the long-term.

You could set aside small amounts of time to do something nice for yourself. You could listen to some music, spend time with a friend or go for a walk.  

If you don’t feel you can leave your loved one by himself, you could ask a family member or friend to sit with him. Or a nurse or carer might be able to look after him while you have a break. This is called respite care.  

Accepting help from family and friends

Don’t feel that you have to cope with everything on your own. Try to accept help from others. People often want to help, and it can give you more time and energy to support your loved one. Family and friends might be able to help with things like collecting prescriptions, doing some shopping or cleaning, or looking after children or pets.

Looking after my health

People close to those with cancer can sometimes find that their own health gets worse. This might be because of stress, or because you don’t have the time or energy to look after yourself.

Make sure you look after your own health. If you are feeling unwell, tired or low, talk to your GP.

Getting support

If you’re looking after your loved one on a regular basis, it can seem overwhelming at times. But there is support available.

  • Practical help. You might be able to get help preparing meals, doing housework, or getting your loved one washed and dressed.
  • A short break from caring. This is called respite care. A professional carer can come into your home and look after your loved one for a few hours or even overnight. Or your loved one could be looked after in a residential or nursing home for a short time.
  • Financial help. You might be able to get a carer’s allowance and other forms of financial support.
  • Help at work. You may be entitled to time off work or flexible working. For example, your manager may let you change your starting and finishing times or work from home. This can help you balance your work with caring for your loved one.

A carer’s assessment will look at the care you give and the type of support you need. You may not think of yourself as a carer. But if you provide regular unpaid care for someone who couldn’t manage without this help, you may be entitled to support.  

For more information on getting support:

After my loved one has died

Thoughts and feelings

When someone you love dies, it can be very upsetting and distressing. Grief is very personal and everyone grieves differently.

Most people feel shock and numbness to begin with. You might feel a sadness that feels almost like a physical pain. Or you might feel anger, guilt, depression or longing. Some people feel very tired, feel ill, cry a lot, have little appetite or have problems sleeping. It can also be stressful to sort out practical and financial things.

These feelings will usually get better over time.

If you’re not managing to do tasks like shopping, cooking or housework, this could be a sign that you need more support from family, friends or health professionals.

Everyone grieves differently and there is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way to feel. But if you feel sad or low a lot of the time, you could be depressed. It’s important to tell your doctor or nurse how you are feeling. They can help you get the support you need.

Getting support

Some people find it helpful to talk about the person who has died. Others want to talk about their memories of the person and their feelings about what has happened.

Many people cope with help and support from family and friends. Others find it helps to talk to someone who is trained to listen, such as your doctor or a bereavement counsellor.

You might find it helpful to speak to other people who have lost a loved one. You could meet people at a support group, on our online community, or talk to someone through our one-to-one support service.

The charity Cruse Bereavement Care offers information and telephone, email and face-to-face support.

If you feel like you need more support, tell your doctor or nurse. They can help you get the support you need.

Supporting someone who is grieving

It’s difficult to know how to support someone when a person close to them has died. It can be especially hard if you were also close to the person who died.

It can help to stay in touch with the person and let them know you’re there for them. You could offer emotional support and practical help, such as going to the shops or helping with things around the house. Don’t avoid them, as they may be feeling very alone.

If, after a few months, they are not managing everyday tasks, such as housework, shopping or cooking, this could be a sign that they’re not coping. You could encourage them to speak to their doctor or go to the doctor with them.

Read more about how to help someone who has lost a loved one on Cruse Bereavement Care’s website. The charity Winston’s Wish has more information about talking to children who are grieving.

References

Updated: April 2016 | Due for Review: April 2018

  • List of references  

    • Carter N, Bryant-Lukosius D, DiCenso A, Blythe J, Neville AJ. The supportive care needs of family members of men with advanced prostate cancer. Can Oncol Nurs J. 2010;20(4):166–76.
    • De Sousa A, Sonavane S, Mehta J. Psychological aspects of prostate cancer: a clinical review. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2012 Jun;15(2):120–7.
    • Echlin KN, Rees CE. Information needs and information-seeking behaviors of men with prostate cancer and their partners: a review of the literature. Cancer Nurs. 2002 Feb;25(1):35–41.
    • Ervik B, Nordøy T, Asplund K. In the middle and on the sideline: the experience of spouses of men with prostate cancer. Cancer Nurs. 2013 Jun;36(3):E7–14.
    • General Medical Council (GMC). Confidentiality. 2009.
    • Macmillan Cancer Support. The rich picture on people with cancer [Internet]. 2015. Available from: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Documents/AboutUs/Research/Richpictures/update/RP-People-with-cancer.pdf
    • National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC). What to expect when someone important to you is dying: A guide for carers, families, and friends of dying people. 2015.
    • National End of Life Care Intelligence Network. What we know now 2014. Public Health England; 2015.
    • UK Houses of Parliament. Care Act 2014 [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2016 Jan 7]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/23/pdfs/ukpga_20140023_en.pdf