Dealing With Grief following Death from a Terminal Illness

Doing and Saying Just the Right Things

When a Terminal Illness Takes a Life

It’s not uncommon to feel helpless when someone has a terminal illness. When death occurs, there is often guilt at feeling relief. Caregivers can feel empty without the daily challenge of caring for their loved one. Here are some things you can do be supportive to friends and family following their loss.

When a person dies from a terminal illness…

  • Refer to the deceased by name.
  • Encourage the family to plan a wake, funeral and burial (even if cremated), if you are in an appropriate position to do so.
  • Send flowers with a note (see suggestions for notes below) or offer a donation to an association that researches the deceased’s disease.
  • Let friends and family talk about their loved one. Be a good listener.
  • Acknowledge the deceased’s life.
  • Ask to help make arrangements or do chores.

During the services…

  • Include siblings of all ages in the activities. Let them ask questions. Answer honestly.
  • Don’t feel guilty about saying or doing something that causes a loved one to cry or crying yourself. Crying is healthy.

After the services…

  • Keep in touch with the bereaved. Many times, friends may have dispersed over a long illness. Family, especially caregivers, will need to replace the emptiness with new activities. Be there for them when they are ready.
  • Find out about support groups and have the leader call the grieving person to talk.
  • Remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death.


  • Don’t take control of the situation. Loved ones need control to help them work through grief.
  • Don’t bring up other losses. Let friends and family focus on their loss.
  • Don’t pressure the family to clean out the deceased’s belongings. They need to do this in their own time.

What to say…

Use your own words to convey messages like these:

“He/She was such a fine person.”

“What you’re going through must be very difficult.”

“I’m saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply.”

Don’t say…

“I know just how you feel.”

“Stay busy to take your mind off things.”

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

“At least he/she is no longer suffering.”

See related topics:

Good Grief
Stages of Grief
Your Grief
Helping Others
Death of an Infant
Death of a Child
Accidental Death
Supporting Children
Death of a Spouse
Death of an Elderly Spouse

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