Supporting a Colleague With A Dying Loved One

Dear Barbara, How do employees address their employer's/supervisor’s pain and stress when their superior is experiencing health issues or issues within their family? My supervisor’s mother is dying and I don’t know what or if I should say or do anything.

This can be a touchy situation and I don't think there is one correct answer. Actually, I am having difficulty coming up with even one example of what to say let alone several. 

Here is where my thinking has finally ended up:  I think you have to listen to your intuition. Do what feels comfortable to do for you. Base your response on the relationship you have with this person. What do you feel led to do and say?  What does your heart tell you? Let that be your guide.

It is easier to say what not to do: Don’t use platitudes (“I feel your pain,” “I’m sure this will be okay”). Don’t bring spiritual beliefs into the conversation, even “I will pray for you” can be disconcerting in some situations. Don’t offer advice unless asked for or tell a story of your grandmother who had the same challenge. Don’t say “if there is anything I can do for you just ask.” They will not ask.

This has led me to think about what any of us can do for an acquaintance who has a serious illness or is caring for someone who has a serious illness. An acquaintance is someone we know but we don’t really think of as a friend we are close to. Most of us have many acquaintances and are blessed if we have a handful of friends.

It is not really about what you say, as there really aren’t words that will make a difference. It is what you do. Be an observer and determine what needs to be done. Are there driving errands that you could offer to do? A grocery run can prompt a phone call saying, “I’m going to the grocery store, what can I get for you while I am there? A phone call saying, “I’m making lasagna tonight. I’m making a double batch. I’ll bring it over at 5:30.”

Be a listener. There aren’t answers from outsiders for the challenges faced BUT to be able to talk about challenges and have someone listen can be comforting and a healing gift in itself.

Something More... about Supporting A Colleague With A Dying Loved One...

If there should come a time when you feel it's appropriate, (don't go where you aren't invited), offer support with our End of Life Guideline Series or The Family Support Bundle.   These two bundles are compilations of our most popular hospice and palliative care books. They will help the watchers care for and understand what to expect with their dying loved one. These bundles are an invaluable gift. 

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1 comment

Carol Harris

I say, “I’m so sorry about your _______’s illness. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know. Those aren’t just words, I mean it.” That’\s for friends, family, or any colleagues, regardless of “rank”.

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