Research into British attitudes towards dying by NatCen suggests fewer than half of us have discussed what our wishes would be if we didn't have long to live. But not talking about death and dying could mean many of us won't die the way we want to. Discussing the practicalities and emotions surrounding dying is in everyone's best interests.

According to the charity Dying Matters, many people don't connect with those who are dying or grieving because they feel awkward or embarrassed. We may be afraid of saying the wrong thing, or we may be unable to face up to what's happening. Those who are dying may steer clear of the subject because they don't want to be a burden, or they might be in denial and unable to face the truth.

Starting the conversation

If you've never talked about death before it can be difficult to know how to start discussing the subject with someone who is seriously ill or dying. One of the easiest ways of opening up the subject is to ask them who they would like you to contact if they became very seriously ill. This lets them know you realise they may not recover and that you're willing to talk about it.

Other questions you could use to open up a difficult conversation include:

  • If you become really ill, would you like me to sit with you?
  • Have you ever thought about what you want to do with your belongings?
  • Have you thought about what kind of service you would like at your funeral?

Dealing with practicalities and sharing feelings and anxieties can bring you and your loved one closer. Some of the things you may need to talk about include:

  • The type of care they would like towards the end of their life
  • Where they'd like to die
  • Whether or not they want to be resuscitated
  • What funeral arrangements they'd like
  • Whether they want to donate any of their organs
  • Whether or not they want to talk about being ill or dying
  • What they'd like others to know before they die

Being a good listener is very important when someone you love is dying. Try to remember to be respectful of their religious or spiritual beliefs and avoid always looking for the right thing to say - don't feel you have to talk all the time, just being there for them may be all they need.

Telling others about a death

If you have to inform someone that their loved one has died, the way you tell them can make a big difference. Here are some pointers:

  • Always try to break news of a death face to face
  • Rehearse what you're going to say beforehand and give yourself plenty of time
  • Use plain and simple language
  • Ask if the person you're talking to has understood what you've told them, and encourage them to express their feelings

There's lots of helpful information on talking about death and dying on the Dying Matters website.

How CABA can help

Dealing with end of life can be a challenging time. We are here to help. We can support you with information about care and links to services, as well as practical considerations, such as funeral grants and someone to turn to.