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.

It can be devastating when you find out that someone close to you will die. Even if you were expecting to hear the news, it could 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, you 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 you realise. And you don't have to do it on your own, there is help available. 

What you can do

As a carer, you will 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 the 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 wonder how you'll 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, you'll have your good and bad days when things are tough.

Getting help and support

Other people can help you. Where you can, use the support from:

  • doctors and nurses
  • psychologists and social workers
  • palliative care services
  • friends and relatives

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 provides information and emotional support through their helpline and website.

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. This is because they are so busy caring for the person with cancer that they forget to care for themselves. But this is very important. Most carers cope better if they take some time out from looking after the person with cancer's needs. 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 from 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 see you have a break and know that you’re looking after yourself.

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