“My friend is dying and wants me to be there. How do I ask her family?”

A question sent in to my ‘Dear Karin’ advice column.

Dear Karin,

My best friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in nov. 2017. It spread to her liver now and the hospice says she has 4-7 days. I want to be with her, as she had asked me to be there at end, if I wanted to. Now how do I ask her family? My friend is unresponsive a lot now. Thanks for any advice as I am crushed. I cannot even write this right now.

P. 02/04/2019


Dear P.

I am sorry to hear about your best friend’s cancer diagnosis and that she is dying.

In the interest of time, I don’t want to delay my response.

As friends we may feel part of our friends’ family. Yet we may not be next of kin. The next of kin may regard us as extended family, or not. That’s why it is always important to share such wishes with those relatives, who are most likely to be there or involved when our life ends.

We may be asked to accompany someone during the last days and hours of their life. Yet, when it comes to it, circumstances and feelings may be more complex.

I don’t know which may apply to you and your friend.

Neither do I know what “being there at the end” means and what is needed – for your friend and for you.

I would suggest that (if you feel this is possible) you speak with the family or a relative and say what your friend has asked for, and ask how her wishes can be acted on. See how they feel about it.

It is difficult, when several people want to be with the dying. I have been in such situations and it can get overwhelming  – even if people get on, are supportive to each other AND the person dying does not mind.

You might have read my article about when my friend died. I, like many others, wanted to be there until the end. But it was physically not possible. The room did not allow for it, and our friend also “felt” the heaviness of the grief, that was in the air from all of us.

In the end we agreed individual, brief good byes. When I had mine, I did not want to go. I found an excuse to go back in, but then I felt she had said good bye, and undoing that was going to be too painful for both of us. I had to accept it, and focus on what we were able to share – while she was alive and during the last moments together.

I think we can stay with someone until they die, and when they die, we still have not said good bye, or whatever it is that we need to say or show or pass on, or just some intense silence and touch we want to share.

If possible have a quiet time alone with your friend. Even if she is mostly not responsive, you may be able to get an idea of her wishes now.

Whatever you do, regard it as doing the best you can. Death is rarely neat. You should not be left with regrets.

This is also going to be a tough time because you have started to grieve now, and you will grieve a lot more. It will be exhausting. Be prepared for that. And then there are the circumstances of your friend’s death, the cancer, how she might have changed … Do take care of yourself.

I hope these thoughts are of some assistance to help you work out what is best.

With my best wishes for you and your friend.


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Image courtesy of MabelAmber.


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