Ask Dr. Giles: What emotional support can we give our brother

Angela asks:

Our offers to help our brother-in-law and his family seem empty but very much appreciated by them. We live an hour away, so its difficult to assist with coordinating meals, errands, and pick-up/drop-off for their daughter. We’ve hosted mass intentions for him, but feel that’s about all we can do. What emotional support can we provide?


I think it is wonderful that you want to make sure you are doing what you can for your brother-in-law and his family. Providing emotional support is a very individual endeavor and depends primarily on what would be considered to be support for the person with cancer.

In your desire to know what more you can do, a good place to start may be to have more frequent, casual contact with the family where you inquire about how things are going for them. This contact could be over the telephone, by email and text, or even Facebook. Over time (and it may take months), you will begin to pick up on patterns and themes with the family. Your conversations will have more continuity. You will be able to inquire more specifically about things that are happening because you are more aware of what is going on in their daily lives. The family will feel more emotional support from you because they feel known by you and because you seem to genuinely care about what is going on with them. As you become more familiar with what is going on with them, you may see opportunities to take action on their behalf–in ways you know will help because you really know them.