I have a friend who's been diagnosed with cancer.
Actually, I currently have three. Lot's of hope for one, less for the other two. I'm not an expert on friend's with life-threatening diseases, but the freshness of my friend Mike's passing still lingers. I got closer to him in his last three years. Cancer got him.
I liken being a friend of someone with a terminal disease to being with a friend on a plane. It's second engine has seized. You're going down together. It's a matter of time til impact, yet I'll walk away from the crash physically unscathed. We'll ride this plane down together.
The more life we live, the more death will come close. No one teaches us how to deal with it. I hope this may help.
1. Stay connected with themOften when life gets uncomfortable we tend to shy away. "I just don't know what to do or say; I feel awkward."
Get over your awkwardness. It's not about you. It's about your friend. Your uncomfortableness is nothing compared to the weight your friend is carrying. So keep calling. Keep texting. Keep stopping by. Nothing worse than facing mortality and wondering where your friends are.
2. When you don't know, askWhen people are sick, it's hard to know:
a. If they want company
b. If they feel too bad for company
c. If they want to talk about their condition
d. If they want to talk about anything but their condition.
So if you don't know, just straight up ask them. They'll tell you. Some of you are great relational discerners, but if you're not sure, ask.
3. Ask the spouseNot all sick people are great about sharing important information. We often like to hide things when we're sick (i.e. especially MEN). Spouses always know what's going on. Don't be afraid to check the story with the spouse. "He says he's doing great, is that real or is he just trying to keep me from worrying?"
4. Be there for the spouse tooThis is so important. In these situations spouses go through more than I can convey. Call them. Stop in just to see them. Ask what you can do to help them. Their needs can seem mundane, but with all they're juggling, helping with a meal or picking up kids can be huge. At one point, people simply providing clean pillow cases was life-giving to Lynne when Mike was sick.
5. Shut upWhen you visit people, don't feel like you have to have the right words. For God's sake don't throw cliche Scripture verses or phrases at them like, "I'm sure God has a reason for this." Just don't.
Tell them you care. Tell them you're praying (if you are). But don't feel like your words are what they really need today. What they need is your presence, your love, your willingness to be there for them and their family. The fact that you made time to come and hang out speaks volumes. Don't screw it up by trying to make them feel like this horrible thing is somehow alright.
That said, they may want to hear about how you're doing. Some stories from your life may be a nice reprieve from their circumstances. Again, if you're not sure if you need to talk or just be there, ask.
6. PrayI pray for healing until the plane makes impact or until the situation is such that it would be a blessing for all involved if God would take him/her. I also pray for relief from pain, strength for them and the spouse, peace, their relationship with God and anything that makes sense to pray for. I often ask, "How can I pray for you?" In addition to all things you and I can do, the family needs ministered to by the Holy Spirit in powerful ways. This is how we can help that to happen.
7. Choose faithThese can be sad days. The Bible is full of rough times, but through it all God is there, working, being God, loving, redeeming, forgiving. Your friend and their family need you to stand strong for them. That means trusting God will be God in and through times such as these. Faith isn't magical; it's a choice. You may have to choose it many times as the plane goes down, and in the aftermath.
If I can help you, let me know; I've been there. Peace.