Relationships and other matters

This page explores how finding out you are near the end of life may impact your relationships, thoughts and feelings, and where you can find support.

Unfinished business

Nearing the end of life often makes people think about things that feel unfinished in their lives. There might be things you still want to do. Or there may be things you want to fix or make better from the past.

For example, you may want to:

  • see old friends or visit some places again
  • look through photos or journals
  • finish a project
  • make a difficult relationship better
  • organise your affairs

Or you may want to do things for other people, such as:

  • writing letters to people who are important to you
  • recording a voice message or video to be given to someone after you have died
  • writing down your family history for others to read
  • making a scrapbook for your loved ones.

Dealing with unfinished business can be very important. It can be a relief to complete a task or make something right. But thinking about these things and deciding what to do can also be hard work. It may be upsetting or cause strong feelings. And sometimes it is not possible to do exactly what you want to do.

You may find it helpful to get support. Ask your GP or palliative care team for advice. They may be able to arrange for you to talk to a counsellor, a chaplain or family support services. They may be able to help resolve more difficult issues.


When you are reaching the end of your life, the people close to you become even more important. But having a terminal illness can affect your relationships.

You may find people react in ways you did not expect. Some may find it hard to know what to say, or avoid talking about your illness completely. Others may be overly cheerful. This might be difficult for you, and it can be hard to tell them how you feel.

Your partner, other family members or close friends may be overprotective. You might find this annoying at times. Sometimes, close family and friends may feel like strangers at a time when you need them most.

Remember that people around you are likely to be shocked by the news. People close to you can provide support and comfort to help you cope with what is happening. But they are also dealing with strong emotions and may need support themselves. Their feelings and emotions will also change over time.

You may want to contact people you have not spoken to for a while. Other people may want to contact you when they learn about your situation. This could be a chance to reconnect, or resolve any past arguments or bad feelings.

  • Partners

    If you have a partner, you may try to protect each other from the truth by acting like it is not happening. If you can, talk to each other about your situation and your feelings. Being open and honest can help you both cope with sadness, anxiety and uncertainty. And you may find that your relationship becomes stronger as you deal with the challenge together.

    It is helpful to keep your relationship as normal as possible. If you have always been close and talked a lot, there is no reason to stop doing this. There may be times when you do not know what to say. A hug, holding hands or just being together quietly can sometimes mean as much as words. It can be very comforting for both of you.

    If you have always argued, do not feel you should change this. It is a stressful situation and there will be times when you do not get on well. If you argue a lot, having short breaks from each other can help you feel calmer and think more clearly.

  • Children

    It is never easy to tell children you are very ill and nearing the end of your life. But it is often best to be as honest with them as you can, and try to give them information they can understand.

    Children are often aware of what is happening around them. Even if you do not say anything, they may sense that something is wrong and become worried or frightened. If they are told that everything is fine, they may imagine explanations that are not true. They may also find it difficult to talk about how they feel.

    Children sometimes think they are somehow to blame for your illness. It is important to help them understand that it is not their fault.

    How and what you choose to tell children depends on their age and how much they can understand. You may find our information about talking to children and teenagers and preparing a child for loss helpful.

  • Teenagers

    Teenagers may find it hard to talk about your situation or to show how they feel. It is important to encourage them to ask any questions they have and make sure they feel involved.

    They may find it easier to talk to someone else, such as a close family member, friend, teacher or counsellor. It can help to tell teachers about your situation, so they know what is going on and can offer support. If the teenager is working, you could encourage them to tell their employer.

    They may also find support online. If you are a parent, your children may find Riprap helpful. It is a website that offers information and support for teenagers who have a parent who is approaching the end of life.

    We have more information about talking to children and teenagers about cancer.

  • Family and friends

    Macmillan’s cancer support specialists can provide advice and support for your family and friends. You can call them on 0808 808 00 00.

Memory boxes

A memory box is a container that holds special things belonging to you. It can be a helpful way of passing on memories to your family, partner or friends. It might include messages and letters, jewellery, photographs, or a present to mark a special birthday. If the memory box is for a child, they may want to help you make it and fill it with special items.

Making a memory box can be a sad and difficult thing to do. But it can also give you a chance to reflect on your life. You may like to remember happy events, even if it also makes you feel sad. It is important to do what feels right for you and at a time that feels right. Your local hospice family support team or chaplaincy services at your hospital can help you make a memory box.

Talking to someone

You might feel calm about the fact that you are going to die. Or you might be scared about what is happening. You may find it helpful to talk through your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. This may be a close friend, partner or family member, a health and social care professional or a chaplain or religious leader. You can speak to a chaplain or religious leader even if you are not religious. They are usually good listeners and may be able to help you work out your thoughts and feelings. They are also used to dealing with uncertainty and being with people who are distressed.

You may prefer to talk to someone who is not religious. Humanists UK have volunteers who can offer non-religious pastoral support. Your GP, specialist nurse or cancer doctor may also be able to help you find a non-religious counsellor or pastoral carer to talk to. You can search for counsellors on The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.

You can also call the Macmillan Support Line or chat to one of our support specialists online.

You may not want to talk about these issues. You may find it helpful to do an activity such as art therapy or meditation to help you process your feelings.

Spiritual and religious support

Spirituality can mean different things to different people. It may be religious, or it may be expressed in other ways. This can be through music, arts, nature, or how you relate to your family or community.

Towards the end of life, you might think more about religious beliefs, spiritual feelings or your sense of purpose in life. Many people find their faith offers them emotional support and strength during their illness. But thinking about the end of life may challenge what you believe.

You can find information about spiritual issues on the Marie Curie website.

Other support

Hospices or hospitals often have local support groups. Or you may prefer to get support from an online group such as the Macmillan community.

Some people feel calm about the fact they are going to die. But others are frightened by the thought.

Dying is something that will happen to all of us. But it is not something that is easy to talk about. Most people do not talk about it very much. Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk to you about death and dying, and will do their best to answer your questions. They can also help you have difficult conversations with people close to you.

There are events called ‘death cafés’ which are safe places to meet with other people to talk about death. There are no agendas or objectives at a death café meeting. They are led by someone who helps guide and support the conversation.

Being with others who are having similar feelings and emotions can make it easier to talk about your own feelings. Death cafés are held in different places, such as a library or community hall. Some hospices help with these and have dates of when and where they are being held locally. Visit to find out more and where and when death café meetings are happening.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our advanced cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Health Improvement Scotland/ NHS Scotland. Scottish Palliative Care Guidelines. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

    NICE. Care of dying adults in the last days of life. NICE guideline NG31 [Internet]. 2015. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

    NICE. End of life care for adults: service delivery. NICE guideline NG142 [Internet]. 2019. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

    NICE. Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer. Cancer service guideline CSG4 [Internet]. 2004. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Viv Lucas, Consultant in Palliative Medicine.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2022
Next review: 01 September 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.