Talking about death with someone who is in end of life care
Starting conversations around end of life planning and death can feel awkward and upsetting. Although the impact of these conversations may be different depending on who is having them, at Farewill we’ve seen how important they can be.
We often help people who sometimes feel unsure whether they are planning a funeral that their loved one would have wanted or they’d like to be remembered. Having conversations with the person now can be a big comfort down the line.
Starting conversations around end of life planning and death can feel awkward and upsetting.
Everyone is different: your loved one may already be reflecting on death and not know how to start the conversation, or struggling to come to terms with it.
You and your families might hope to get a better understanding of your loved one’s wishes and thoughts, or you could feel upset, angry or not ready to deal with the topic.
Research from our recent Death & Us report, which looked at trends in attitudes to death in 2021, showed that people wanted to speak more openly about death, but still don’t know how. We’re scared of saying the wrong thing, so we sometimes don’t say anything at all.
Why it’s important to talk about death
At Farewill, we often help people who sometimes feel unsure whether they are planning a funeral that their loved one would have wanted, especially finding out if they have any thoughts about what kind of funeral they would want or they’d like to be remembered.
Starting these conversations early can mean you can get a better idea of what your loved one’s wishes for their funeral are. This can be a big comfort down the line.
Fulfilling their wishes can help make you feel like you’ve honoured their memory. Or knowing that they don’t have any specific preferences can make it easier when you come to arrange the funeral, and you are less likely to second guess yourself.
Conversations with friends and family close to your loved one can also make you feel less alone at a time when things feel very uncertain or upsetting, or that you’re coming together to protect your loved one’s final wishes.
Tips on starting the conversation
It’s often difficult to get started, but many people find starting the most difficult part and it gets easier.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you have the conversation:
get a steer on how direct you can be by thinking about how your family generally responds to difficult or serious conversations
it may be helpful to write down a list of questions you want to ask
it’s okay to say you don’t know what to say
It’s okay to share emotions that aren’t positive, or that you feel upset
you don’t need to discuss everything in one conversation, or cover everything you need to
the most important part is giving yourselves the opportunity to share
you can use movies, books, tv shows or songs as a prompt
It’s normal and fine for your loved one to deflect the conversation, especially humour, just make sure you still talk about the things you’d like to
Questions you might ask:
if there is anyone they’d like to get in touch with
about their life - any memories or moments that felt important to them
what kinds of songs or books mean a lot to them
whether they’ve had any thoughts about people they’d like to come together to remember them
Marie Curie sells a set of conversation cards, which are designed to get the conversation flowing. They help to share wishes whilst simultaneously learning more about family and friends.
With friends and family it might be helpful to start thinking about who you want to be the main decision maker or planner when the time comes, or what tasks certain people could be responsible for.