The purpose of this study is to find out what cancer patients' relatives think about the informational and emotional support they receive from health care professionals before and after the patient's death. The data were collected with a structured questionnaire administered to relatives of cancer patients who had died in one of seven health care centres and in one hospice in south-western Finland during a 2-year period before data collection. The questionnaires were sent out by staff to one family member of each adult patient (n=910). The final sample comprised 376 family members, most of whom were the deceased patient's spouses or children. Relatives felt that they had received fairly much support from health care professionals, both before and after the patient's death. Before the patient's death most of the information received by relatives concerned the patient's illness and treatment. They received less information about forms of financial support available. Communication had been honest and the information provided was easy to understand and based upon the relatives' needs. Emotional support before the patient's death consisted mainly of acceptance of the relative and listening to what relatives had to say. However, relatives had only limited opportunity to talk about their difficulties in everyday life. After the death of the patient, staff had mostly supported relatives by showing their acceptance of them and by giving them the time they wanted. Some background variables for both patients and relatives correlated with the support received by relatives before and after the patient's death.