Saying goodbye to someone who's terminally ill


(Just to warn you, in case the thread title gave it away: this is a bit bleak).

I’m going down to Dorset this weekend to visit my dad and stepmum. My stepmum was diagnosed with cancer last year and after various rounds of chemo, operations etc has now been told that she’s got weeks to live. (We found this out two weeks ago but they’ve been inundated with visitors so we’ve delayed our visit until now).

Anyway, I’ve never had to do this sort of visit before. I’ve had many relatives who’ve died before but I’ve never seen them, knowing that this’ll be the last time I see them alive. (When my mum died, I think there was a part of me that believed that she’d recover - also I was 18 at the time and not really equipped to deal with this). I’ve also never had to do this with children in tow.

My stepmum isn’t bed-ridden (for instance, when my sister and her family went to visit last week, she came out to the quay and sat on a bench whilst they fed the ducks), but she’s quite weak and has lost a lot of weight. It’ll be lovely to see her but at the same time, saying goodbye is going to be awful. Any tips on how to keep it together / what to say / how you went about it would be helpful.


I have no useful advice to give you, but just wanted to say I hope it goes as well as it can and that you and your family are as ok as can be expected.


Sorry, man.

I’ve done this a couple of times, said goodbye to uncles in hospital. Neither of them were really able to talk much at the time, it was basically holding their hand, saying goodbye and giving them a kiss and leaving. I was okay in the room, was only really overcome by the emotions when I was walking out of the hospital. No real advice here, sorry.


awww man. this sucks. sorry to hear this.

I’m going through the same thing with my mum.

re what to say - there is no right and wrong answer here. I’ve found prompting/encouraging my mum to talk about stuff from her childhood/growing up/us kids being idiots has really helped with her overall mood. we’ve had lots of belly laugh moments, which frankly, we didn’t have when she was in a better place. weird that.

I think when you get to that point in your life you just want your loved ones around you - there are no rules.

hope it goes well, man


I’m so sorry to hear this man. I’m going through something similar with my mother-in-law since she was diagnosed last year.

I’ve got no advice to give but I will say that I don’t think anybody has the right answer here. The best thing you can do is be there to see her which is exactly what you’re doing. I hope it goes as well as can be expected.


Sorry to hear this.

I think an awful lot of it depends on the attitude of the person in question.

When I last saw my granddad he was in a lot of pain and wanted it all over with, and to be honest, I probably spent more time talking to my nan who seemed to be the worst affected by this.

On the other hand, a friend of mine (mid-30s, three kids) was the most positive person I’ve ever known, and wanted a big party with as many people as possible there, and wouldn’t accept any wallowing from anyone.

It’s important to look after yourself, but more important to take your cues from your step-mum and those around her. It might sound like I’m being harsh towards you, but in some circumstances you have to put yourself down the priority list - your stepmum, your dad and your kids should be your focus, especially the latter.

Have you explained the situation to your kids?


sorry to hear this ma man, hope you’re as well as can be.
i’ve had to do this a couple of times, like the others have said no real right or wrong, i just gave them a hug and kiss, said goodbye and walked out.


Yes, my children know the situation. And the reason I’m sharing is because I don’t want to make things worse for my children, my stepmum or anyone else.


Oh boy, really sorry man. I’ve not got any useful experience or anything here (although I’m convinced my Gran knew it was the last time when I saw her last) all I’d suggest is to not try and double-guess yourself too much. React the way that you are reacting, don’t go in trying to ensure you behave or respond in any pre-determined way.


Really sorry to hear that c_c_b.


I wouldn’t worry too much about what you should say. Just being there, holding her hand, giving her a hug and that kind of thing is probably more worth more than words you’ve agonised over beforehand.


All that said, I had a similar-ish situation where we had to turn my Granddad’s life support off and finding the strength to go in with my Dad to inform the doctors so he wasn’t doing it alone is something that I never in a million years would have imagined myself capable of so I think people can find inner-reserves of whatever helps you and others cope in the moment.


really sorry to hear this c-c-b and @bird
hope you are both holding up alright

i haven’t got any advice i’m afraid, i imagine there are no right answers, but you are a sensible thoughtful chap and i’m sure you’ll handle the situation with grace, tact and love


Just read this as well, fucking hell man, I’m sorry. Much love to you pal.


Oh gosh yeah, sorry man. (I misread this and thought you were talking about the past tense). DM me if you ever want to talk, and thanks for the good advice.


Make sure you take the opportunity to have some decent time with your Dad as well - I’m sure he’ll appreciate your support and he must be in pieces having to go through this awful situation for a second time.

If there is anything practical you can help with as well then obviously offer (I’m sure you will).

I’ve not really gone through a situation like this but I’d probably ask her what she’d like to do - whether it’s just sit and cuddle or go out to see something or whatever.

How old are your kids, just out of interest?


I’ve not had to do this since I was 10 or so, so can’t give any useful advice.

But I think the points others have made about not being too worried about what you’re saying as it’s just being there that counts, and making time for your dad and those others who are going to be most affected are spot on.


I went through this, in a way, with my mother-in-law earlier this year. The last week was just the strangest, most bizarre time. She was ultimately confined to bed, in and out consciousness. The family just gathered round, sitting with her, talking, as she slowly faded. There were lots of tears, but laughter too. I remember looking out the window and seeing the neighbours driving to work and the postman coming and all the rest of it - things just carrying on as normal, while we we gathered round a deathbed. It was surreal. Still is to think about.

I think the only thing to do is what will come naturally to you - just make her know how loved she is, and reassure her that, as a family, you will all be together and there for each other come what may.

And I’m sure there’ll be practical things that need doing to, that might help your dad out.


It’s all been said upthread already but I’m really sorry for you both. I experienced similar with all 3 of my grandparents and I think really just don’t feel like you should be a certain way. I found that generally I wasn’t really able to control whatever emotion I was feeling at the time anyway. Agree with the bit about the period afterwards being the hardest part, so make sure you look after yourself. Good vibes to you man


Some excellent advice in this thread.

Said goodbye to my Grandad a few years back, in a small quiet coronoray care unit of a local hospital. Our family were only allowed in 2 at a time. Strangely i have fond memories of it, the place he was in was very nice; a cosy (for a hospital) white, clean, calm room with the sun streaming in, and he was surrounded by amazing people and had been visited a lot. The staff there were yet another reason the NHS is just so bloody great; total stars the lot of them. We’d been super-close when i was a kid but there were no tears or hysterics and we talked about pleasant everyday things; the football (he was a big Everton fan), the weather (there’d been some crazy-heavy snowfall overnight), the crossword…

Sounds ‘weird’ to say maybe but i do look back on it as a happy memory which i wouldn’t have expected beforehand.

Best of luck to you.