CareSearch palliative care knowledge network - Logo CareSearch Home
  • Login
  • |
  • Feedback
  • |
  • Email Page:
  • |
  • Font size:  Normal TextMedium TextLarge Text
  • Search

What to Say

When you learn that someone has a terminal illness it may be confronting. It may make you think about your own life and how you will one day face the thought of dying.

You may be worried about what to say and what not to say to the person who is ill. You may feel uncomfortable being with someone who is obviously unwell. If you have already experienced the loss of a loved one this may affect how you are feeling now. There is no proper or right thing to say. Being with someone and being willing to listen is the most important thing that you can do.

As an illness progresses, people who are very ill may talk less. They may find it difficult to have people come and visit and tire easily. Prepare for shorter visits. Take your cues from the patient or carer.

The disease, or treatments for the disease, may change their mood or personality. Don't take it personally. Remember that the family carer may still need company and support.

It can also be difficult when somebody has died. It is important that you acknowledge what has happened. It is worse if you ignore it and don’t talk about what has happened.



  • The Macmillan Cancer Support (UK) website has a section on Talking about cancer which provides information on talking and listening, how to talk and what you can do to help
  • The Hospice Net website provides some advice on Helping a Friend Who is Dying
  • The Canadian Virtual Hospice has information on What do I say?
Fact Sheets
  • CarersNSW has a series of Factsheets that provide useful information for carers.

Related CareSearch pages

At the End
Tips for Visitors
Family Carer Coordinating Role
Communication Tips
Difficult Conversations
Social Support

Last updated 05 May 2016*