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End of life

Talking to loved ones about death

It can be difficult to talk to loved ones about death. You might not want to bring up the topic or not know how to talk to them about it.  Or, if someone close to you is dying, you might not want to ask questions that could upset a loved one. On this page, we give advice on how to talk to loved ones about the end of life.

It’s not easy to know how to talk about dying and death with your loved ones. These topics can naturally bring up upsetting or uncomfortable emotions, and so it’s easy to avoid them.

But it is important to talk about your preferences while you’re able to. You might want to discuss what’s happening or how your loved ones will cope after you’ve gone. Or, if someone close to you is dying, you may be struggling to know how to talk about it. This page aims to help you start to have these sorts of conversations with your loved ones.

Age UK has a booklet on talking about death and dying you might find useful to read through and share with loved ones.

Talking to loved ones about your death

Whether you have a terminal illness or simply want to start to having conversations about the end of your life, it can be difficult to know how to broach the subject with your loved ones.

It can be useful to have some conversation starters in mind, relevant to what you’d like to talk about. For example:

  • “I think I’ve decided what I’d like to happen to my body after I’m gone. Would you be happy to have a conversation with me about this, so you understand my wishes?”
  • “I have some ideas about what I’d like my funeral to be like. Can we have a conversation about my preferences on this?”
  • “I think it would be a good idea for me to make a will, so it’s ready when the time comes.”
  • “I’ve been reading about advance care planning and think it would be a good idea for me to start putting some things in writing. Would you be happy to talk with me about this?”

It can be useful to remember that people might be worried about upsetting you or making you feel uncomfortable, or asking you questions you don’t know the answer to. Setting boundaries is important: there may be topics you don’t want to talk about with certain people, and that’s fine.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to talking about illness and end of life. Some people find it helpful to talk to family and friends. Others prefer to talk to a doctor, nurse, or counsellor. You might like to talk in depth, a little or not at all. Discussing difficult topics helps us to be better prepared for when those things happen. Talking to those closest to us can seem scary, but it’s an important way to help process and understand what’s happening.

If you don’t like to talk about these things, you might want to express yourself in a different way. You could write a diary, blog, story or letter, record a message, or share time with family and friends. The important thing is to identify what helps you most. We have a list of organisations that offer emotional support in our help and support section.

You might be worried about how your loved ones will cope after you’ve gone, but it can be useful or comforting to talk about the future with them. We have more information about the different stages of mourning and life after the death of a loved one.

Talking to someone who is in the final stages

Talking about death with loved ones can be difficult, but it’s important to have these conversations. By talking about death and dying, you can find out what’s important and talk about any worries or concerns. It also helps you and the people around you accept and understand the situation and allows people to feel part of the discussion.

It's also important to understand a person’s preferences and discuss practical issues, like wills and organ donation. You can read more about the practicalities to consider and advance care planning.

It can be extremely difficult to see death approaching for someone you love or care about. But it can be helpful to talk about what is important to your loved one about how they are cared for. We have more information on how to care for someone in the final stages.

It can be difficult for the person who is dying to talk openly about it. You may need to wait for signs they want to talk. For example, they might mention things feeling final, or coming to an end. It can be easy to change the subject. But it’s important to allow the person who is dying to talk about how they’re feeling. Or to let them know you are there and ready to listen, should they wish to talk.

You might be worried you won’t know what to say, or that you’ll say the wrong thing. So, it can be a good idea to have a conversation starter in mind, such as:

  • “I know this is difficult, but I think it might help if we talk about what is happening and how we both feel.”
  • “Just to let you know, I am here if you ever want to talk.”

You may find that they don’t want to talk, or that there are things they don’t want to talk about with you. Try to not be offended by this – they are likely to be going through a range of emotions.

It’s important to remember that sometimes people would prefer not to think or talk about the future. All you can do is your best to make sure the person knows that when they’re ready to talk, you’ll be there to listen.

Download our end of life information (PDF, 490KB)

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