Supporting someone who is approaching the end of their life

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 the person you are supporting.

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. 

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. It can be difficult for someone to accept that they can't do certain tasks anymore, so you might need to be sensitive to that when you offer to help.

Read our quick guide - Six step plan when you’re supporting someone - to ensure that you are looking after yourself whilst supporting him.

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.

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 Hospice UK's information and support page

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 website.  

Talking to my loved one

Talking about feelings can help get things out in the open and make you both feel less anxious.

There’s no right or wrong way to talk about end of life care or dying. How you talk about it will depend on your situation and your relationship with your loved one. Take time to think about the best way to talk to them.

If you haven’t had difficult conversations in the past, it can be really hard to start these types of conversations. But it is good to try, as many people do find it useful to talk.

Think about the time and place where you want to talk about things. It can help to be in a calm environment. Try to make sure you both have enough time to say the things you want to say and to listen to each other.

Remember that your loved one may have similar questions and worries as you. They may find it a relief to be able to talk about their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to listen to them too – understanding what they are thinking can help.

How to start a conversation

You could ask gentle questions to see whether the person is ready to talk. For example you could say, “How are you feeling about the future?” and see how they respond.

You could prepare the other person for the conversation by letting them know you want to talk about something serious. For example you could say, “I want to talk to you about something that might be difficult” or “Can we talk about your prostate cancer?”.

You might want to share what you’ve been thinking and see how your loved one responds. For example you could say, “I’m worried about what will happen in the future”, “I’ve been thinking about what might happen if you get seriously ill” or “I’m worried about how long you might have left to live”.

If you’re not sure whether the other person wants to talk about something, you could ask them. For example you could say, “I’ve been thinking about where and how you might want to be cared for if you become really unwell. Can I talk about it with you?”

Your loved one might not know how to respond straight away. So it can help to give them time to think about having a conversation. For example you could say, “At some point, I’d like to talk about what happens if you need more care. Can we talk about it sometime?”

You could let your loved one know that they can ask you about things in the future, so that you keep communicating about things. For example you could say, “You can talk to me if you have questions or worries about things” or “I know that some things are difficult to talk about. You know it’s okay to talk about these things with me if you want to.”

If you need support to have these conversations, ask your doctor or nurse for advice

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 feel that they can 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.

Sometimes he might feel that he wants to talk to someone but not you. That could be someone who understands what he is going through in a support group, on our online community or through our one-to-one support service.

If he wants to talk but you don't, you could try talking to someone else first. Remember that you are dealing with your own feelings too.

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, anxious, have little appetite or have problems sleeping. It can also be stressful to sort out practical and financial things. You may cry a lot or not at all.

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 following organisations might help you.

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 from Cruse Bereavement Care. The charity Winston’s Wish has more information about talking to children who are grieving.

References and reviewers

Updated: April 2016 | Due for Review: April 2018

This information was reviewed by our Specialist Nurses for clinical accuracy in August 2021.

  • Kate Bullen, Head of School for Applied Social Science, University of Brighton, Brighton
  • Jackie Dawson, Community Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hazel Parsons, Palliative Care Nurse Specialists, Dorothy House Hospice, Winsley, Bradford on Avon
  • Elizabeth Rees, Lead Nurse for end of life care, Leeds Teaching Hospitals
  • Our Specialist Nurses
  • Our Volunteers.