How to Help Your Terminal Sibling Cope

How to Help Your Terminal Sibling Cope

Helping a sibling cope with a terminal prognosis is one of the most emotionally painful things one can go through. It can be difficult, confusing and even overwhelming for all parties involved to try to maintain a positive mindset during such an emotionally challenging time. You may also be wondering what would be best for you to help your loved one cope with their situation.

Understand that it is entirely acceptable to first be in a state of shock, especially when you are first given the news of your sibling’s terminal prognosis. While you may already be grieving for the eventual loss of your sibling, know that it is important for you to try to stay strong so you can be there to offer them your love and support. Ultimately the most important things you can offer your loved one is your love and compassion, and to simply be there for them during this difficult time.  

Coping with a sibling‘s terminal prognosis is an extremely difficult situation and is something no one or anything can prepare us for. We understand that unfortunately no amount of advice or recommendations will be able to give your loved one their health back. However, we hope that this list of coping strategies we have compiled is able to offer you and your loved one some comfort during this incredibly challenging time.

Talk Directly with Your Loved One and Ask Them About Their Needs and Wants

Don’t assume that your sibling or loved one has accepted their terminal prognosis. Even if your sibling seems to be handling the situation well, this may be due to their being in a state of shock and therefore, unable to fully process their emotions at this time. They may also be behaving so as to prevent you from suffering any further pain.

It is important to be attentive to your loved one’s needs and wants during this time. Take the opportunity to ask your loved one exactly what they need or desire, how can you help, what would they want to do during their remaining time, etc. It is also advised to address these questions with your loved one directly, rather than wait for them to open up about it so you can start to focus on helping them enjoy their remaining time, and take their mind off their  situation. Talk to them about their plans before they depart. Perhaps, you can still help them fulfill special wishes that were important to them prior to their diagnosis.  Most importantly, always offer them your love and support even if they appear to be handling the situation emotionally well.

Create a Wish List

After talking directly with your sibling and making sure he or she knows they have your full support, you can start planning to create a wish list together.

Create a list of your loved one’s most cherished desires, and try your best to remove yourself as well as your feelings from it. While it can be difficult to do so, now isn’t the time to focus on your own individual wishes. Instead try to concentrate your love, compassion and time on your sibling. This means that even if you think that an activity you and your loved one can share sounds fun and exciting, but your sibling doesn’t agree or feel comfortable with it, try not to insist on it.

In your list include things like:

  • Things your loved one would love to accomplish.
  • Places he or she always wanted to visit.
  • Food he or she always wanted to try.
  • Any special occasion he or she would like to celebrate before departing.
  • Activities he or she always wanted to try but was too afraid to do so.
  • Something both of you always wanted to do together but never had the time for.

Such a list of important sentimental items and activities like this can help you and your loved one emotionally cope during this time, enjoy your final time together in a special way as well as create memories to last forever. If your sibling can no longer travel or is limited in their movement, consider bringing the fun and activities to them. Again, remember that the most important element of any activity for you to share with your sibling during this time is your simple presence, being there for them and offering your unconditional love and support.

Take The Focus Off Your Sibling’s Terminal Illness 

Although it can be extremely difficult to not do so, focusing on the inevitable of your sibling’s eventual passing will only serve to take away from the time you have left together. Try to also not constantly remind your sibling of their illness, and instead redirect your emotions and thoughts in a more positive direction by empowering him or her to do the things they’ve always loved to do.

It can sometimes be more harmful rather than helpful to overprotect your loved ones from participating in certain activities because of their illness. For instance, if you are now handling the majority of your sibling’s duties, like cooking and cleaning, etc., it can send the signal or a reminder that they are no longer capable of performing these things on their own. Instead, encourage your sibling to keep trying new things and challenging their strength, as well as help them counter their own self-limiting or deprecating thoughts.

Again, as difficult as it may be, try to focus on enjoying the time you have left together in an emotionally positive, healthy and productive way rather than wallowing in negativity.

Avoid Asking How They Are Feeling About their Terminal Situation

When someone is coping through a difficult situation, drawing attention to their circumstances by asking him how they are feeling can be like throwing salt on an open wound. This doesn’t mean that you should not acknowledge their feelings; the idea is that it is better and ultimately more supportive to help take your loved one’s mind off their situation and redirect them into a more positive mindset. Focus on engaging in behavior that will comfort your loved one as well as lift their spirits. Perhaps, instead of concentrating on talking about their circumstances you can suggest taking them on a walk outside for fresh air to clear their mind.

Be Present and There For Them

The bottom line is your presence, and simply being there for your loved one during this time is the most powerful gesture of love you can offer. Your loved one needs you now more than ever before. Simply, be there and present with an open heart to offer comfort and compassion. Your support will help them find peace and closure. If they are a person of faith, it is ok to encourage them to look towards their beliefs as an anchor.  Remember, our loved ones, even if after they are gone, will forever remain alive in our memories and hearts. 


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