Layne lost her father to cancer in her mid-20s. She hopes to help others navigate their experience with loss.
What to Say to Someone Who Is Terminally Ill
What do you say to your mom, dad, friend, sister, brother, coworker, or neighbor when you find out that they are dying? Perhaps they told you that they are terminally ill with cancer, that their chronic illness may very well take their life, or that their health is declining rapidly. This is challenging news that would come as a shock to anyone. It is so shocking and upsetting that it can be difficult to know how to respond and what to say.
It is possible to find the words. Use the examples below as inspiration to get you thinking. Give these messages some thought and find the perfect thing to say to the person who needs to hear it. Feel free to modify the ideas below to fit your needs and the person you are thinking of. Before we begin, let's first talk about what not to say.
What Not to Say
- It's going to be okay: This can be hurtful. The truth is that it's not going to be okay. They are dying. There are better things to say listed below. Your intention may be good but understand this is a sensitive topic.
- You'll beat it: When I found out my dad was terminally ill, many people believed he would "beat it" despite his cancer being inoperable, stage 4, and incurable. Not understanding someone's terminal diagnosis can be unintentionally offensive. Don't tell someone "they'll beat it" when it's scientifically impossible. There are other ways to offer hope and messages of peace and positivity.
- I'll pray for you: Why not just say "I'll be there for you"? "I'll pray for you" can sound a little bit like you've already checked out. Just be present for your friend or family member (you can still pray for them!). If you are particularly religious, praying for someone is kind and might be appropriate. It's up to you.
Messages for a Coworker or Neighbor
- I just want you to know that I'm thinking of you and sending you positivity. Wishing you joy on this day.
- I wanted to let you know that you are in my thoughts and I wish for your wellness every day.
- You are in my thoughts and prayers daily—you mean so much to all of us.
- Enjoy the beautiful moments of every day. Sending you love and joy.
- You are such a light to everyone around you and your bravery is inspiring.
- I am here for you—never hesitate if you need to reach out to me. You have my support.
- You mean so much to those around you, and you are an important part of our community (or team).
- You are such an incredible gift to the world. Know that you have touched so many people.
- You have shown me how to be strong yet gentle, brave yet sensitive, and thoughtful yet free-spirited.
- We are so lucky to have a team member (or neighbor) like you. You light up our community.
Messages for a Friend
- You are a light in my life and I am so thankful to know such a beautiful being.
- You're strength radiates outwards and you remind me daily of how to appreciate the present moment.
- I will stand by you through thick and thin. I am here for you whenever you should need me.
- Your friendship means the world to me and I continue to learn so much from you.
- You shine above the clouds—your smile and spirit brightens the darkest of days.
- Know that I am thinking of you every day. You have my prayers and best wishes and are forever in my mind.
- I care for you with all my heart and want you to know that you can lean on me whenever you need it.
- Our friendship has changed me on such a profound level. I am your advocate, always.
- Your strength is admirable. Thank you for teaching me how to face challenges with bravery and beauty.
- In the quiet moments of my day, I keep you in my thoughts and in my heart.
Messages for a Parent (Mom or Dad) or Grandparent (Grandma or Grandpa)
- Mom, you are my guardian, my inspiration, and you have loved me unconditionally. I am so thankful to have a mom like you.
- Dad—I know times are hard right now, but I think of you every day and always with love and light. You have taken such good care of me and I only hope to take care of you just the same. I love you.
- Mom, you are the leader of our family and the strongest woman I know. Continue to shine bright.
- Dad, I will always remember the time you took care of me as a child. I felt safety in your arms and you loved me unconditionally. I love you always.
- Mom, I know that times could be better, but you have all of our love and support. I am with you.
- Dad, it's been a hard watching you deal with your condition, but we are here for you and I will do anything to make you feel comfortable. I love you so much.
- Mom, you are the light of my life. You bring me joy and I hope I can bring you just as much joy during this challenging time.
- Dad, you are our protector and rock. I hope I can offer you just as much support and strength.
- Mom, sometimes I wish we could turn back time to lighter days, but we work with what we have. I want to appreciate every moment of time we get to share together. You are my number one.
- Dad, I wish that I could be with you every moment so that I can hug you whenever you are feeling low. You mean so much to me.
Messages for a Child
- You are a light to this world. You are a beautiful soul and remember that you have so many people who support you.
- You are strong, brave, and light up this world with your magnetic nature. Continue to be your wonderful self.
- We love you so much. You are a shining star. Continue to be magnificent.
- I know it may be a scary time for you. Every time you are afraid, you have so many people who love you, thinking of you and praying for you.
- Continue to dream, continue to be bright, continue to inspire.
- You are a beautiful person inside and out! You remind me of the miracle of life.
- You have an important purpose in this world and you continue to touch so many. Shine bright!
- Continue to shine—from your beautiful smile to your beautiful spirit.
- We love you so much. If you are scared or feeling unwell, think of us and we will send strength your way.
- Every day you are a gift to this world. We love you.
Words of Inspiration for Someone Who Is Dying
- I will never forget you—you give me so much to remember.
- Your melody will always live on—you are a joy.
- Love is forever.
- You are with me and I am with you.
- Without rain we wouldn't enjoy the rainbow.
- You're in my heart and dreams forever.
- I smile forever when I think of our friendship.
- I will dance in the rain with you.
- You bring beauty into this world.
- Even when we are short for words, I am always here for you.
- Our love will live forever.
Words of Encouragement for Someone Who Is Sick
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Layne Holmes
Have you experienced loss? Please share your words below.
Carol Morris on October 12, 2019:
Thanks for your kind words. I agree, that after you've lost someone yourself it is much easier to relate to others.
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 12, 2019:
Hi Carol, thank you so much for your feedback. I am sorry to hear that your mom is sick. I do agree that a lot of people avoid because they are uncomfortable with the situation and simply don't know how to communicate their thoughts. After my dad passed, I've found it much easier to approach people and speak from the heart. Best wishes to you.
Carol Morris on October 12, 2019:
Powerful writing. My mom is sick and I see that many people are staying away, my guess is that they just don't know what to say.
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 09, 2019:
Thank you for the read, Dora. I'm glad you enjoyed the meanings of the messages. True, it is hard to find words during a time like this. Be well.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 08, 2019:
Beautiful, meaningful messages. We all are baffled at times to know what to say in this situation. Your article is a helpful guide. Thank you.