Helping terminally ill sister die

Hello all,

I'm desperate because my sister is dying of lung cancer...they've now given her 2 months. She lives in the UK alone but is not able to. My sisters do what they can, popping round a couple of times of week and doing her shopping and cleaning, etc. My sister so far has been too proud to ask for help because she is fiercely independent but recently has started to collapse, has stopped eating and feels very unwell, apart from being afraid.

My problem is that I'm 57 years old, married, live in Portugal and work. I'm in a rented room so my life is not great but as I've lived abroad for over 35years it would be difficult for me to go back to UK to look after my sister because what would I do after she dies? I'm also terrified of flying so couldn't catch a plane.

Last year I went back for a month with a view to caring for her long-term but we didn't get on. She is so used to living alone and is very demanding. We drove each other mad and I think we were both glad when I left. She has also continued to smoke continuously and the place smells disgusting.

I'm having terrible anxiety attacks thinking about her all on her own. My sister say let her go into a hospice where she'll be well looked after. We all say we'd do the same because we are not a very close family. My mother died 2 months ago so all I ever think about is death.

I suppose I'm feeling guilty. I'd be grateful for any feedback. Thanks a lot.

34 Replies

  • Please try not to feel guilty. You don't live in the UK so cannot do as much as you may like. A hospice could mean a break for everyone including your sister.

    Please don't beat yourself up as you are still grieving for your mother. Xxx

  • Thanks Sassy for your comforting words. xxx

  • There is certainly no easy answer - you have valid reasons to not return to the uk. Perhaps you could visit for a couple of weeks and help organise hospice care etc. You must still be grieving for your mum. How difficult for you. Please take care xxxx sending you lots of love xx

  • Hello Tadaw, thanks a lot for your lovely reply. My sisters can organise hospice care but my sister won't hear of it at the moment. If I lived anywhere in UK, I would be down there like a shot. It's this fear of flying thing that is stopping me from going. Last time I flew we were hit by lightening. Thanks again. xx

  • Hi I have a idea how you feel I lost my brother about 6 years ago to cancer my family said let go in a hospice but I wouldn't have it but he had to go in a few hours before he died .and I don't no why I worried there wonderful in there and it really nice in there they treat the patients very kind and professional I would recommend a hospice to any family in you position it take some off the stain of the family reassures you that she being taken care of God bless you all

  • Appreciate your kind words Pugs....thanks a lot. God bless YOU. x

  • Hi

    Contact the Macmillian Trust

    They can offer practical support and advice.

  • Thanks Stone, but at the moment my sister won't hear of outside help, despite living alone and collapsing regularly. She wants me to go back to help her but I don't think I'd be able to cope, based on last experience. She only wants to see our sisters and her daughter, who being 7 months pregnant and with 3 kids, can't visit much.

  • Hi

    They can help you find a practical solution which will benefit the whole family.

    They have a wealth of experience in supporting family members with as much or as little support you may need.

  • I agree with everyone here. Am sure Macmillan could help.

  • Sorry to here of your concerns, it is not unusual to feel guilty in these circumstances. I agree with others you should not feel guilty, your sister has made the choices of how to deal with her final days, calm down and take each day as it comes you need all your strength to cope in these sad times. , do you have any friends near you could share your thoughts and sorrow with? If not come to us anytime you need to talk, feelings can really bring you down and you have only just lost a close relative, your mum with the thought of losing your sister too. You have every right to feel anxious, your sister could have respite care at the hospice to give your other relatives a rest from caring . thinking of you in your sad loss xx

  • Thanks for your reply. I don't have any friends and my husband isn't really supportive.

  • Sorry to hear that,guess you feel a bit alone as most of your family are in England. Just a thought Macmillan nurses have a site on line maybe they might be able to give some advice about the situation with your sister in England, they do have a support service for the whole family in terminal illness cases, worth a try I would have thought. x

  • Firstly my thoughts are with you, having recently lost your mum and now contemplating losing your sister, and being away from your family, life must sometimes look very bleak.

    Don't feel guilty for what you can't do feel priveledged for what you can do for your sister.

    You can be there at the end of the phone, you can write to her but most of all you can listen to what she wants, throughout your post you seem to be keen to be there for her but maybe she just wants to do things her way. Maybe all you can do is help her die the way she wants to. Whilst it can be quite a sorrowful conversation it can also be liberating to let her take the lead on what she needs and give her the chance to choose what she wants while she still can.

    As a nation we fail to talk of death generally, but I know what my parents and siblings want so I hope that when the time comes I can give them what they need and want , not what I think I should do. I hope not to have any feelings of guilt only feelings of love and good memories to hold onto.

    Good luck, maybe you need to look for someone to talk to about your grief, maybe you need to get some support so that you can support your sister.

  • HoneyBerry, this must be so hard for you - you are still grieving for your mum, and that will make everything look darker.

    Please don't feel guilty about your sister (easy for me to say, I know!). By not accepting outside help, she is placing an unfair burden on her family. She is the one who is dying, so it is easy for everyone to feel she is entitled to that - but you and your family's needs are valid too, and you can only do what you can do. Instead of arguing with her over whether you should be there, maybe you could focus on supporting her in the ways that you can - over the phone, by letter/email, helping her talk about her feelings (actually, it would be really good if she could do this with a trained person from an organisation like Macmillan), letting her know you care. Since your last visit was so stressful for both of you, it's surprising that she wants you to come back. If her choice is not to accept ANY outside help, she has to accept the reality of what that means for her. You are doing all you can - no one could ask more of you. Be kind to yourself. Xxx

  • Honeybees - what a difficult situation for you, bless you. Everyone has given such great advice here I can think of nothing to add. Please don't feel guilty - whatever you decide, as there's no clear cut solution. I hope that things get sorted soon, but I agree with Stone that you should contact The Macmillan Trust in the first instance - I'm sure they will be able to help. Good luck and all best wishes x

  • Hello Honeyberry

    A very sad and anxious time for you all.

    I lost my Mum four years ago , she had Ovarian Cancer and was adamant to spend her time left at home.

    We respected her wishes.

    Her last three days, she asked to go in a hospice, and we arranged it for her.

    She had wonderful end of life care there.

    She was happy knowing she could decide her own path.

    Your sister wants to decide hers.

    You have to let her, but please do not feel guilty...this is her choice, not yours.

    I wish you strength to help you through this very sad period in your life.

    Love and hugs

    Velvet xx

  • Oh bless her

    Being fiercely independent does not mean coping alone it means getting a team to help you stay as independent as possible

    She needs referring to her local hospice they can help with so much from pain meds to respite to making home life easier.if thats what she wants...and will get things in place to help the family so this needs doing asap if they havnt already spoke with the gp or consultant

    Have a chat with your sisters x

  • Thanks everybody for the conforting replies. What nobody understands, though, is that my sister doesn't want us interferring - she won't let us talk to her gp, consultant (who she hates - I wanted to ask them to change), MacMillan or end of life team. Absolutely no way will she consider a hospice. She hates outsiders and won't even have our nieces in the house. She was very offended when one of sisters asked her what type of funeral and music she wanted, also about the cost. I just feel sick to my stomach, can't sleep and so depressed.

  • You could insist a gp go round there and they could force her into somewhere where she is safe and being taken care of which she dosnt want but could you live with that ?.....You can accept what she wants and know she is neglecting herself and is not safe on her own can you live with that ?

    You could come back to the uk and between you and your sisters make sure someone goes there every day maybe

    Its a lose lose situation your in either way.. im so sorry its hurting you so much i would be heart broken too but when the time comes and she isnt here you and your sisters have to live with the choices you have made so make the choices you can live with honey

  • Actually she has told her gp that she is being cared for by the family, which is completely untrue. I think at the end of life you need someone with you 24/7 and not just popping in 3 times a week, which is what most of my sisters manage to do.

  • I agree with you , I would want someone with me 24/7 but its you your sister has asked and because your unable to its eating you away.

  • Exactly Mandy.

  • I am so sorry for the situation you are in. My mum died 4 years ago this month to cancer they detected it to late and there was nothing they could do. The hospital was putting in place a care plan for her she was allowed home and sadly only lasted two days. Sorry but if your sister is not accepting the help there isn't much anyone can do. Take care

  • Oh honey so sorry. I do understand your difficult situation but also your sisters.

    I was diagnosed terminal a year ago and didn't want anyone to know. Wouldn't discuss funerals or anything else that felt to me like end of life and defeat.

    Now the people I want to know we have told. Still won't discuss funerals except to tell them I want an humanist cremation.

    I too do not like my MacMillan Nurse. I refused to visit a Hospice. Refused pain killers etc.

    At the moment I'm on a drug trial and still a little in denial. She will come round in her moments of despair.

    My friend was horrified I hadn't told my family in Australia so she did, for which now I'm grateful as they all keep me upbeat with emails, texts, photos etc not many phone calls due to time difference.

    Please stay on her side.

    Love Suzyxxx

  • Dear Suzy,

    I don't balme my sis for not wanting to talk about her must be a terrible thing to be told you're going to die in a couple of months. I think you have to respect people's privacy. It's up to her at the end of the day to organise help, if she wants it. My dilemna is that she wants ME to go back to look after her - I went last year and lasted a month. She is difficult, you see and very demanding. Years before that, when she was seriously ill again, I put my life on hold in Italy, left my job, flat, fiance and went back to look after her for 6 months only to end up in a homeless hostel in UK. I'm afraid that will happen again but this time I'm 57 and no spring chicken. To lose my job would mean no income. My sister reckons that I'll always find a job.

    I appreciate your comments Suzy and wish you all the best. You're very couragious.

    K xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxTake great care

  • Sorry honey I misunderstood. Not sure what to say now. Except I would never expect my family to devote their live to me only in emergencies.

    Being a carer is a thankless task I know. That they still lead their lives I find a comfort and keeps me positive. Gives me a feeling of normality.

    Can you speak to a counsellor yourself. You need help through this.

    Will keep you in my thoughts and prayers

    Love Suzyxxx

  • Thanks Suzy, really appreciate your thoughts and prayers. There's no counselling here in Portugal but no worries. I'll cope somehow.

  • Well..., I'm sort of in the same situation as you, though not separated from my two siblings by so great a distance. I'm the youngest in my early 70s and my sister and brother are nine and three years older respectively.

    At our ages, we're all ill with one thing or another and have never been all that close either. I often wish it were different but..., what is..., is.

    I can appreciate your concern about your sister but it sounds as though you have other siblings who are closer and can take care of her. It may sound callous to say there's nothing more you can do since you've tried previously and it didn't work but that seems to be the way of it.

    I know I wish, as I've said, the alienation didn't exist in my family but sometimes that's just the way it is and there's no fixing it.

    Take care of your self and....., no regrets.



  • Dear Duncan,

    We've never been a close family. I think it's more about duty, I think. My mother had 13 kids and there was no love between any of us.....we were like strangers. Never a hug or a kind word. But, that's life.

    Thanks Duncan!


  • Hello HoneyBerry, the one thing nobody is saying here, is that your sister is being very selfish. Being so ill, doesn't give her the right to dictate to you and your sisters.

    Personally, I would suggest to your sisters, that they contact her GP and tell him the true situation.

    Besides Macmillan Nurses, there are the Marie Curie Nurses. Your sisters might find it very helpful to visit a nearby Hospice to discuss the situation. I feel it would help them a lot with regard to decision making.

    As for you, you have your marriage and life in Portugal to consider, in my book, husbands come first. You did your bit, by coming over for a month and it proved to be a difficult time. Please don't repeat this experience, as it would be far worse.

    In a nutshell,

    Your sisters need to write to her GP.

    Visit a Hospice,

    Possibly talk to a Nurse from Macmillan or Marie Curie.

    You need to concentrate on your life with your husband, From what I can gather, I doubt very much if your sister would come to Portugal to help you if the situation was reversed.

  • Dear Azure,

    Thanks for your reply. You're quite right, of course. Thanks again for being so candid.


  • Hi Honeyberry. So sorry to hear of your anxiety, but having read all the posts so far I can only reiterate what everyone says. Don't feel guilty. A great many of the suggestions mentioned would ease you sister's last days but if she is so much against them all there is nothing you can do.

    God bless.

  • Hi Sherry, thanks for your reply. Bless you!

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