Communicating with the Family
I live far from a friend who’s caring for his dying father. How can I be supportive from a distance?

Your friend most likely needs to talk about his feelings and frustrations. Listening may be the support he needs the most. Consider offering to call regularly to check in. Ask what time is best to call, as he likely has a schedule that needs to be kept. Also ask how often he’d like you to call. He may be busy, and can only manage one call a week, or he may really need support and want you to call every other day. You can also ask at the end of each call when it’s best to call next, as his needs may vary. By asking, you can be assured that you’re supporting him in a way that works for him.

Many people find it hard to talk about dying and illness and avoid any discussion at all. Take your lead from your friend. Talk about whatever he wants to talk about. Don’t be afraid to ask about his dad’s illness, but also be willing to listen to what else he has to say. It’s good to take a break from the illness and talk about other things.

If you feel you want to "do something," even if you can’t be there physically, ask your friend what he needs and what you can do. You may be surprised by what he says. You may be surprised also by what you can do even from a distance. Offer something small to start. You may ask if his dad has a favorite treat or flowers you can have sent to their home. You can write letters or emails or send a small scrapbook based on shared times and memories. These things don’t take much time, but they show you’re thinking of them, which can give much comfort.

The important thing to remember is that your friend is still the person he’s always been, even in these difficult times. Keep the lines of communication open, and if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.