Conversation starters

It can be awkward starting a conversation about dying and death. Here are some suggestions as to how one might approach the subject. My book covers many options – so this is just a taste of how the conversation might start.

If it’s the elderly or dying person who wants to initiate the conversation

• I know this might not be easy but I’d like to have a chat with you about some of my thoughts and feeling, if not now, when would be a good time?
• There’s something I wanted to talk to you about … When I think about … I feel …
• Would you be happy to listen to what I am feeling?
• I’d like to have a conversation with you where I could express my feelings about …


If it’s the family member who wants to initiate the conversation

• This might be really uncomfortable, but I am feeling … and wondering how you are feeling about this?
• When you think about the end of your life, what do you think would be the most important things for you?
• There’s something I’ve wanted to talk to you about … when I think about … I feel … How would you feel about having a conversation about it?
• I’m frightened of crying or upsetting you but there are things that I need to talk about.


Irrespective of what we see as our role during this process, the important thing is to listen and be actively involved in the discussion, and to learn the right responses rather than trying to avoid the person’s pain and suffering. I have come to learn that it’s not just listening that’s important. Equally as important is having the right responses so that the dying person really sees that although we may not be able to understand their sadness and grief and/or any other feelings they may wish to share with us, we are empathetic and acknowledge that their feelings are very tangible for them.