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

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

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

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.

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:

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Last reviewed: October 2020

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