How a Christian Can Help Someone with Terminal Illness

by John Kie-Vining

“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.'” Hebrews 13:4 NIV

Caring for the terminally ill is not an easy task. The caregiver must come to terms with his or her mortality in order to ministery to the dying. This is easier said than done. But having a spiritually mature person to talk with will enable the caregiver to process his or her own feelings of fear and helplessness in ministering to someone who is facing death. Here are ten suggestions for helping someone who is desperately ill:

1. Always tell the truth. Speak honestly but wisely. Do not belittle the problem or minimize its seriousness for the sake of false reassurance. Integrity in this area will help to build a trusting relationship in which ministry can take place.

2. Never set times. No one know how long or short a person has to live. Many cases have had turned for the good, or have gotten worse. No one knows for certainty when one is going to die.

3. Listen with sensitivity. Allow the ill person to guide the conversation and do not be afraid of not knowing all the answers. It is better to say “I don’t know” rather than to give misleading information that will undermine one’s trust.

4. Respond to needs. Listen for clues to the concerns that are troubling the ill person. Take into account the ill person’s economic, psychological, family, and other needs, and help when needs are revealed.

5. Never allow the patient to feel abandoned. Emotional needs are often ignored while physical needs are being met. Calls, cards, flowers, and visits are all important and meaningful. Never make a promise that cannot be kept.

6. Make yourself available. Being available shows that you care for the patient, but do not over-do it. Make the visits often and short.

7. Do not give medical advice. Do not go beyond your area of expertise and offer advice that you know nothing about. Even if you have visited people with similar cases you do not know this particular patient. Leave this area to the doctors.

8. If necessary, protect the person from him/herself. At times ill persons will attempt to treat themselves without telling their doctor, or will fail to take medication. The doctor needs to know about all attempts at self treatment.

9. Always hold out hope. There is always something to be thankful for, and cause for meaningful spiritual hope in spite of how dark the situation may seem. Be realistic in how you hold out hope to an ill person.

10. Provide spiritual support. Relationship with God is vital for a living or dying person. Be open and honest about your faith. Avoid heavy theological discussions and demands. Do share the simplicity of the Gospel and God’s love and presence in loving affirmation and prayer.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4 NIV

When Home is Where the Hurt Is, Dr. John Vining, pp. 370-372.

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