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Dear Annie: How can I be strong for my dying friend?

A woman places comforting hands on the shoulder of a friend undergoing cancer treatment

Dear Annie: My friend is terminally ill and planning her own funeral. She wants us to celebrate her life. But right now, I want to cry and cry. How can I be as strong for her, as she is being for herself and those of us who love her? – AJ

Annie says: How incredibly difficult this must be for you. Are there other mutual friends that are going through this with you that you could find a space to collectively express your sadness and grief? Whilst it is important to respect your friend’s wishes for strength and celebratory energy, it is equally important that you have time to process and share your vulnerability.

If you can make space for this you will be far better placed to be strong for your friend. I would also add that your friend will probably need this too. Both avoidant or restorative behaviour – feeling strong, adapting to the new circumstances – and activities which confront the loss – crying, feeling sad and angry are important. As Stroebe and Schut put it, ‘both too much and too little grief can be harmful’.

So if you can, model this for your friend, explain the importance of the other side of the coin, and encourage her to do the same. Whether she does this with you or her family, or professionals, I have no doubt your time together planning her funeral will be far richer and closer for it.

If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, you can write to her at

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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