How to talk about death and dying
Talking about death and dying is not easy for most of us but we have to face our own mortality at some point in our lives. Understanding what that will mean, for ourselves and our loved ones, is something that is beneficial for everyone involved.
We talk about many things with partners, family and friends every day. Yet most of us find it difficult to talk about what may happen if we have a life-limiting illness or when we die.
If we can talk freely about it long before we reach that moment in time, we can make sure that our loved ones are aware of our beliefs, feelings and final wishes.
Having that conversation as part of everyday life can help us live life to the full by making lasting memories and doing what matters. And when the time does come, it can help us to be more at peace and in control during our final days.
Lasting Legacies was the subject of the 2018 Suffolk Annual Public Health Report. It recommends that talking about end of life and death should not be taboo. It is vital that residents in Suffolk feel comfortable talking about their wishes, requests, beliefs and plans, with professionals, and their families and friends.
The report encourages Suffolk residents and organisations to talk about how we can age with self-respect, die with grace and leave the legacy we want behind. By putting plans in place earlier and thinking about what matters to us and our family, it may be possible to die ‘well’, and in the place of our choosing.
View and download the report:
Dying Matters is a coalition of individual and organisational members across England and Wales. Their website has practical guidance, information and resources on how to say goodbye, the importance of good listening skills, what the dying may experience as death approaches, and guidance on ways to offer spiritual support:
Dying Matters has leaflets to download/print entitled: Things to do before you die, Supporting bereavement, Let’s talk about dying, Talking about dying with people affected by dementia and Talking about dying with children:
You can listen to people who have learnt through personal experience how important it is to talk about our wishes before it’s too late in episodes of The Dying Matters Podcast produced by Dying Matters and Hospice UK:
- hospice.org – The Dying Matters Podcast “Let’s talk about it.” Death and dying is one of those topics that’s just hard to talk about
Every year in May, Dying Matters hosts Dying Matters Awareness Week. It is an opportunity to place the importance of talking about dying, death and bereavement firmly on the national agenda:
To mark the 2018 Dying Matters Awareness Week, Age UK, together with the Malnutrition Task Force, produced a short film and downloadable booklet to encourage us all to feel more confident about having difficult conversations about death and dying:
During the 2020 Dying Matters Awareness Week, a new Compassionate Communities website was launched as part of a local project at The Peninsula Practice (Alderton, Aldeburgh, Orford and the surrounding areas), to support living life fully before we die, providing companions for people and families affected by life-limiting illness, and starting conversations about end of life.
Dr Lindsey Crockett, senior partner at the Peninsula Practice and the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s end of life care lead said:
“The intention of Compassionate Communities is to empower our local community so that, through kindness and compassion, we can give people at the end of their life, and their families the support they need.
“Death is a part of life and something that no-one can prevent. Yet, conversations about death can be difficult. For the dying person it can leave them frustrated that they are leaving things undone and for the family members left behind it can create stress and accentuate the feelings of grief.
“But by talking early, openly and honestly, hopefully a good death can be achieved.”
The website includes advice on how to make it easier to have difficult conversations about death and dying, so that people are better informed and able to make the right choices and decisions. There are suggestions on how to start a conversation and what topics to cover, with plenty of resources to help someone set out their wishes:
Marie Curie provides information on how to start the conversation and what you could talk about. You can also purchase or download playing cards which are designed to help you have meaningful conversations about life and death with family and friends:
- mariecurie.org.uk – Talking to a loved one about their future plans
- mariecurie.org.uk – Help us break the taboo around death
- mariecurie.org.uk – How does talking about the end of our lives help us?
- mariecurie.org.uk – Play cards and spark a meaningful conversation
The charity, Independent Age want to help you start the conversation about death by providing advice, information and stories:
Discussion groups, often known as Death Cafes, take place where people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Rather than a grief support or counselling session, the objective is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their lives.
An article on local Death Cafes appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times on 12 February 2020: