Should I ask about their illness or avoid the subject?
Generally, I’d say that avoiding the subject is not good. It’s better to offer someone the opportunity to discuss things with you, without pushing them to say more if they don’t want to.
Often, the person will want to talk about their illness. Start by asking open questions like ‘How are you feeling today?’ This will perhaps give you an idea of how open they want to be.
If your friend or family member is a private person and you know they tend not to discuss very private matters, be led by this.
What do I do when someone I care about is in denial about their diagnosis?
Should I avoid talk of everyday life?
Illness can make people feel very institutionalised and removed from everyday life. So it’s often a good thing to discuss what’s happening in the real world as it can make someone feel a part of things.
But my day-to-day problems are nothing compared to what they’re going through, surely?
If someone is dying, it doesn’t mean they necessarily only want to think and talk about their illness. When everything is turned upside down, it can be reassuring to hear that the world is going on as it always does.
But again, be led by the individual and share something only if you feel it’s appropriate. Asking open questions about how someone is feeling that day can be a good starting point for a supportive conversation, if you’re worried you’re talking too much about yourself.
Should I offer my help in a general sense, or offer to do specific tasks for the person?
Be open about what you can and can’t offer to help with, and again be led by the person’s situation.
It may be that you can offer somepractical help; for example, cooking a meal or driving them to a hospital appointment.
It can be tempting to reach for profound or comforting words for people with a terminal illness. But sometimes it’s those practical suggestions of things that could make their life easier that are most helpful.