Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

There is no right or wrong way to start talking about dying.

There is no right or wrong way to start talking about dying.
beginning of content

Start talking about your illness

5-minute read

It can feel very difficult to talk about your illness or the fact that you are dying, but talking with your loved ones can help to broach those feelings of isolation.

Living with a terminal diagnosis can make you feel isolated and alone, even though life is going on around you.

Not talking can create worries or distance between you and the people who are important to you, even if you are usually very close.

Talking about your illness and death can help to make you feel closer and to deal with the future, and your worries, together.

You or your family and friends may even find it a relief to have the subject out in the open, even if you find it upsetting.

Starting the conversation

You might want to talk about any number of things, including your feelings about death, your worries, your fears, your wishes for your future care, your funeral or things you would like to give to people.

You don’t have to talk about everything at once. Different situations work for different people. There is no right or wrong way to start talking about dying. If you find it hard to bring up the topic, some of the suggestions below might help.

  • Choose a time and a place where you won’t be disturbed. You could try saying something like: “It would help me if we could talk about my situation. How do you feel about that?”, or “I know it might be difficult, but do you think we should talk about what’s going to happen?”. Starting with a question may help, because it gives the other person a chance to say how they feel about it.
  • Listen to what they say, and if they change the subject or don’t want to talk about it, try saying something like, “OK, we don’t have to talk about it now, but I hope we can talk about it another time. It’s something I would really like to do.”
  • It is normal for people to get upset or feel emotional when they talk about the death of someone they love. Try not to let this put you off. Getting upset or crying can be a release from any worries or pressure that people are feeling. Once this pressure is released, it may help you feel able to discuss things more openly.

Things you might want to say

If you know you are coming to the end of your life, it is important to try to say the things you would like to say to the people you care about. This might be your partner, parents, brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren and friends.

You can tell people you love them. You might want to tell them they have meant a lot to you, or that a disagreement you had does not matter. It might feel very emotional. If it becomes overwhelming, say so, and suggest talking again another time. You could write a letter, make a video or fill a memory box with things that remind you of the times you have shared.

You can also think about dealing with any emotional unfinished business. If there is anyone you feel you need to apologise to, you can say you are sorry. If you have had an argument with someone, you could consider getting back in touch. If the damage from an argument cannot be healed, try not to worry about it. At least you know you have tried your best.

If you feel you are not ready to bring up the subject of your death with your loved ones, you might want to discuss it first with someone less close to you, such as a doctor, nurse or counsellor.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine and the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine advise that if you have an advanced disease, it is important you discuss your prognosis, wishes, values and end-of-life planning with your doctor.

It is important for everyone to plan their future healthcare at the end of life, and to discuss this with their families.

This is called advance care planning. It helps to ensure that your loved ones and your doctors know your health and personal preferences. You can read more about how to make an Advance Care Plan at Advance Care Planning Australia.

More information

You might want to have a look at the resources about palliative care listed below. They can help with planning ahead and inform you about things to think about if you are dying. You could use the information on the sites as a starting point for the conversation, for example saying something like, “I have been reading about end of life care, would you like to have a look?”

Additional information on palliative care can be found at:

Last reviewed: October 2018

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Talking With Children

Talking to children about serious illness and about dying and death is difficult. The challenge for adults is to provide children (4 years and over) and teenagers with information that is honest, timely and appropriate to their developmental age and situation.

Read more on CareSearch website

Talking With the Family

Residents may have many friends and family members. Whether there are many or few persons involved in their welfare, it is for the resident to decide who should be informed about changes in their health status and included in discussions about their care.

Read more on CareSearch website

Death & how to talk about it with children | Raising Children Network

Death and dying can be hard to talk about with children. Make it easier with our guide to what to say, when to talk and how to answer childrens questions.

Read more on website

Death and dying

During interviews people spoke candidly about their own mortality; how they felt about dying, what their wishes were and who they spoke to about them. They also talked about losing loved ones, the grief they experienced and the strategies they used to cope.

Read more on Healthtalk Australia website

Family Conflict In Caring

Caring for someone who is dying can be complex. You may be a family member who has taken on this role. You could be a friend or a neighbour who is helping out, but may feel like part of the family. You will spend a lot of time with the person who is ill. You will find out a lot of information about them and will often talk to health professionals.

Read more on CareSearch website

Prisoners and Their Families

Prisoners and their families face specific issues when the prisoner has a terminal illness and is being cared for in a prison setting.

Read more on CareSearch website


Pain is one of the symptoms that worries people the most. People may not know how pain can be treated and may think that pain is inevitable. Pain does not have to be a part of life with a terminal illness.

Read more on CareSearch website

Care of the Spirit

Spirituality is not just about religion. Different people will understand and experience spirituality in their own unique ways. Spiritual or existential beliefs can help people to find connection, meaning, and quality in their life and often to find peace.

Read more on CareSearch website

Preparing for the End

People may only have a limited understanding of what 'the end' means. Knowing what to expect can help take away some of the fear and anxiety about and dying. Being prepared can help a person feel more in control.

Read more on CareSearch website

Family Issues at the End

Often there are signs that death is imminent, and you can get family and friends together. Sometimes though, a person will die quickly without some of the warning signs. You may want to sit with the dying person, sometimes for many hours. This does not mean that you will be there when they die. The person may die when you are out of the room. This happens a lot. You need not feel guilty about this.

Read more on CareSearch website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo