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Caring for the carer when someone is dying

Looking after someone in the last weeks of life can be a huge emotional and physical challenge. It’s important to take time for yourself and get support.

When you find out that someone close to you is going to die, it can be devastating. Even if you were expecting to hear the news, it can still come as a big shock.

How you might feel

You might feel angry, sad or guilty. You could also feel frightened about how it will happen and if you will cope.

But you might also have a sense of relief in some ways. Now you know what is going on and can focus on making your time together as special as possible.

For most carers, the hardest part is thinking about how it will affect the person with cancer. You might worry that they will be in pain, feel sick, or be breathless. You might have concerns that they will get very anxious and depressed.

It's natural to wonder whether you will be able to support them through this time. But you are likely to be more of a support than your realise. And you don't have to do it on your own, there is help available. 

What you can do

As a carer, you are likely to need time to let the news sink in. It’s important to allow yourself this time. You can try to get your thoughts and emotions together and think about help and support you might need.

The best thing to do is try and focus on what you can do to help. Tell the person you’re caring for how you are feeling. Share your fears and let them know that you're there to love and support them as much as you can.

Being a carer can be difficult

Being a carer can be emotionally and physically exhausting.

At times it may feel extremely difficult and you just wonder how you’re going to cope. This is a very natural response. 

Some people feel guilty if it feels like hard work at times. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love or care for the person with cancer. It just means that you are human. Like everyone else when things are tough, you'll have your good and bad days.

Getting help and support

Other people can help you. Lean on your doctors, nurses, psychologist, palliative care services, social workers, friends and relatives where you can. 

You can’t do everything alone. Most carers will need some help along the way. So don’t be afraid to ask for help from any of them when you need it. 

Carers UK can give you information and emotional support. They have support groups for carers all over the country.

They can give you practical advice on:

  • supporting yourself
  • getting support from other carers
  • where to get financial help
  • housing and equipment
  • where to get help in your area

Looking after yourself

Most carers find it very hard to take time to look after themselves. They are so busy caring for the person with cancer that they forget to care for themselves.

But it is very important. Most carers cope better if they take some time out from looking after the needs of the person with cancer. Try not to feel guilty about this, you need to be cared for too. 

Keeping yourself well physically will help you to cope emotionally. Try to pick up on signs that you’re feeling tired, hungry, or just plain fed up. 

Ways to take time out

Take an hour or two to:

  • go out and get some fresh air
  • have something nice to eat and drink
  • take a shower or a soak in the bath
  • lie down
  • meet or phone a friend to chat about how you feel

Making it easier to go out

Organise friends to come and sit with the person you’re caring for if you’re worried about leaving them on their own. You can also ask for help from volunteers through palliative care services. Ask your specialist community nurse or GP about this.

Let the person with cancer know when you are leaving and when you'll be back. This will stop them getting anxious and allows you to go, knowing they feel safe.

Caring for yourself will also benefit the person with cancer. It will help them to see you having a break and to know that you’re looking after yourself.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.