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How to Talk About Death

Not all of these can be covered at one time. The following are only suggestions. Each person is unique and needs to be treated with respect and kindness.

The timing and setting is most important.

Make sure the place is appropriate – somewhere quiet where other things or other people won’t disturb the conversation. Ask to turn the TV off. Ask other people to gently guard the area for intrusions. Gently means no yelling at people or animals that might want to intrude!

Pick a time when the dying person is as comfortable and as alert as possible. Remind yourself that this is for the dying person and what he/she wants. Be prepared to write things down. Begin gently. “(Dad), we want to be ready to do what you want when there comes a time that you can’t say what you want. It may not be easy to think about this but we want to be prepared.”

Provide comforting confidential confidence. “(Dad) this is a private discussion. Only what you want to be disclosed will be said to whomever you choose.”

Start with right now. "How do you feel about (the place) and people involved with your care?” Discuss concerns raised with an open mind, listening for messages behind the words and then attempt to address those messages. “(Dad), it sounds like you are worried that you are becoming a burden for me?” Be honest and compassionate. Don’t change the subject or fill in the silences.

Get deep, essential information. What does he/she think was the meaning of his/her life? What was important to him/her? What does he/she think was his/her contribution? What was his/her passion in life? What was his/her favourite quote or saying? Does he/she have a philosophy of life?

Allow possibilities. “Is there something that you’d like to do before you die?” There is usually “unfinished business” – someone to speak to, write to, or something to do, something “to fix”

You don’t have to provide solutions at this time, just be appreciative and tell him/her that you will see what can be done and that you will get back with some suggestions. Write it down.

What’s important to the person about these last days, weeks, or months? Repeat it back to the person so that you are sure you got it right and he/she knows you heard it correctly.

What’s a perfect death to him/her? Get the details: Where would it be? Who would be present? Would he/she like music? Prayers? Meditation? Get prepared. Death can come at any time! (See links above)

Last thoughts: What does he/she want to be reminded of as he/she is dying? (God, Buddha, Love?) What does he/she want family and friends to do as he/she dies? (Hold hands, pray, meditate?) What’s important to know about him/her? (He/she loves …..? Is sorry for?)

What worries does he/she have about dying and after death? Let the person talk about each one. Take notes so that each can be investigated. Ask if there are other people who can be told this or if it is confidential? Would he/she like some help with these concerns?

Plan after death care. What does he/she want done to the body: organ donation, not touching it (see links above), cremation or burial?

Plan the funeral. Where would he/she like it to be, what would he/she like to be done at funeral and with the body or ashes? Who needs to be told about the death? Has a will been prepared?

Express your love and appreciation. What was the contribution he/she made to your life and others? Do this as soon as possible and repeat it often. This helps the dying immensely!


© Amitabha Hospice Service Trust

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