Tips for talking

As well as this section, there are books and leaflets which can help you start conversations about dying, tell children what’s going to happen, or explain what you need and how you feel. Ask a member of the team caring for you if they can recommend one.

1. Be yourself

You may feel that people expect you to act or talk in a certain way, or that you need to put on a ‘brave face’. Why should you? Dying doesn’t make you a different person, so don’t be afraid to go on behaving or talking in the way that’s natural to you. If you come from a family of arguers, carry on arguing! If you’ve always used humour to defuse difficult situations, don’t suddenly feel you need to get serious.

I've always been known as a bit of a joker, and I'm not about to change now. I know I’m in a bad way, but I’m not going to change things by suddenly acting gloomy and serious.

2. You don’t need to tell people everything at once

With most people, you won’t need to cover everything in one conversation or make every conversation meaningful. Don’t panic if you feel you haven’t said everything you want to in a particular conversation – just come back to it later.

3. Make a note of things you want to say to special people

Write a list of the important things you want to say to the people you love so you can tell them when the time feels right. Or you could put your thoughts and feelings in a letter for them. 

4. Let people know when you’re ready to talk about dying

If you say something like, “I’d like to talk to you about something difficult”, it can help prepare your friend or relative, and reassure them that you’re ready to talk about what’s happening.

5. Try to be clear and specific

Making your needs and preferences clear can help you and the people close to you. Saying “I feel scared” and sitting quietly with someone for a few minutes can be helpful. But if you are able to give more details, like “I feel scared because I don’t know what the last few days will be like” they may be able to give you more specific support. If something has been worrying you, try to say so. This will let them know what’s important to you and will help them to help you deal with it.

Also it’s useful to check that they other person understands what you’re saying. Every now and then ask: “Do you see what I mean?”, or “Does that make sense to you?”.

6. Tell people about important conversations in advance

If a topic is very important to you, it may be worth telling the other person in advance that you’d like to talk about it, and set up a time to do so. This will help both of you prepare for the conversation, so you’re more likely to feel listened to and the other person can make sure they’ve understood your feelings and wishes.

7. Choose the right time and place

For important conversations, choose a time when you’re both feeling relaxed and at ease. Don’t pick a moment when one of you is in a hurry, distracted or worrying about something else.

Think of somewhere you’ll be comfortable. You may be able to talk at home, or be able to go for a walk or find a quiet spot in the park. If you’re in hospital, ask if there’s a quiet room you could use, or tell staff if you’d like to not be disturbed for a while.

8. Acknowledge how hard it is

Admitting that it’s difficult to talk about dying will help you and the person you’re talking to feel more at ease. If one of you is distressed, angry or embarrassed, don’t be afraid to talk about it. And try not to be put off by silence. Big conversations need silence so you can take in what is being said.

9. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to people you’re not close to

You may feel you’ll never want to talk in depth about dying to your family or friends, but you might feel okay to talk to someone outside your immediate circle. If so, your CLIC Sargent care professional or a member of the team caring for you are all there for you to talk to. They can also explore options such as counselling with you, if you like. 

10. Practise with a professional

If you are feeling anxious and not sure how to talk to people about something important to you, ask a member of the team caring for you to help. You can ‘role play’ with them, trying different ways of broaching the subject, to see which works best for you.

Reviewed September 2015. Next planned review 2017.