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HealthInfo Canterbury

Looking after yourself when caring for someone who is dying

Caring for someone who is dying can be a rewarding experience. But it can also be demanding and challenging.

Looking after yourself during this time is important. It's important to know how to get the help and support you need.

How you might feel

When someone close to you is dying, you're likely to experience a whole mix of feelings. These can include feeling sad, angry, helpless, anxious and fearful. You may also have a sense of relief that their suffering is ending.

These are all normal reactions. Let yourself experience what you're feeling at the time.

Many carers can feel physically and emotionally drained at times. For some, this can lead to feelings of depression. Help is available.

It can be stressful coping with uncertainty in the last days of life. Try not to think too far ahead. Instead, focus on each day as it comes.

Sharing how you're feeling with someone you trust can help you cope.

Physical wellbeing

It's important to take time to look after your own health. Try to eat well and regularly.

Getting enough sleep is important but can be difficult. Sometimes, it might be possible to nap during the day or arrange for someone to share the care at night.

Don’t stop doing your usual physical activities. Getting some physical activity most days can help your mood as well as your physical health.

Getting help

It's OK to ask for and accept help from whānau/family and friends.

They may not offer help if they think you're coping. They might also be concerned they'll be intruding or disturbing you. But being involved will make them feel they're contributing and supporting you.

Think of tasks that you can share, or others can take over, such as:

Health professionals

There'll be a range of people involved in the care of your loved one who are also there to help you.

This may include a hospital team, specialist hospice staff and a community team.

Your own GP or other health providers such as a social worker or counsellor can also help support you.

Community support

Use your local support networks such as your church, school or a sports or social club you belong to.

Some people find an organised support group helpful where you can share experiences with other people in similar situations.

You can find groups through The Cancer Society or your local hospice.

Getting a break

There may be times when you need to have a break. This is understandable, as being a carer can be very hard work.

While the person you're caring for may prefer you to stay with them full time, it's important to recognise when you need a break to recharge. Pushing yourself too far can cause harm to your health and your relationship with the person who is dying.

You may be able to arrange for someone else to come into the home for a few hours or days. This could be a friend or family member. Or it could be a carer from a community nursing agency.

The person you're caring for may be able to go to rest home or hospital for a short stay known as respite care.

Talk to your GP, district nurse or social worker if you need help organising carer support or respite care.

Financial Help

You may need to look at getting financial support to help in providing care.

If you're in paid work, it can be difficult to manage this at the same time as your carer role. You may need to talk with your employer about changing your working arrangements over this time.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: What to do when someone dies

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Canterbury DHB and community palliative care specialists. Last reviewed November 2020.


Page reference: 170426

Review key: HIWSD-76097