Telling your family members you are dying due to a terminal illness is heartbreaking. While there are no easy ways to have this conversation, you can read this guide in a few minutes and learn some ways to talk openly about your own death. 💛
Having to tell close family and friends that you are dying can seem like the most incredible mountain to climb. ⛰️ You may still be in shock or coming to terms with the news yourself.
How you tell someone that you are dying will depend on who they are and how you feel they are going to respond. Some people prefer a face-to-face conversation while others choose to write a letter. There are even some who broadcast the news on social media. There is no right or wrong way to share the news, but do it in your own way.
Talk openly with family and close friends
Most people will tell their immediate family and close friends in person. You may already have a partner or family member who was with you when you were told. 🥰 You can discuss with them the best way to tell other people, especially children. Sometimes it can work well if your loved ones tell people while you are there, but your approach will vary. You will also talk to a child in an entirely different way than to an adult.
Let's mention a few different groups of people you may talk to about your death.
It's natural for you to feel anxious about talking to your family. You know they will feel sad, they will want specific details, and everyone will be faced with a lot of emotions.
Here are some ideas to help you with these conversations:
- Do what you can to make people feel comfortable by sitting down in your home, having a drink, or other normal things for your family.
- Try to speak clearly and plainly about any diagnosis from your doctors. Genuine information is often a great comfort to people instead of vague ideas.
Questions about the process and the future are really normal, but try not to talk too much about them - at least at first. Just offer and receive support from each other.
Talking with children feels even harder. They may not know much about death, or how precious life is. When you tell them you are dying, they will have many feelings and might even be confused. Even without the best words, they will worry and try to find ways to express how upset they are.
To help them, and yourself, try sitting, holding hands or having extra cuddles. You can check out these books to help as well! 📚 You don't actually have to talk much. When they feel ready, they will ask questions about what is happening and what the future will be like. Try to focus on life, not death. If you can, tell them about the other people who will help them in life.
Telling a friend you are dying is really difficult, but most friends are marvelous at coming together when you are upset. Try to help them understand what the doctor told you, any treatment you may receive, and the best way to support you and your family during the process. Friends will want to feel with you, and they will want to offer genuine help. Be ready to answer their questions and be open to receive their care.
Choose the right moment for a face-to-face conversation
Is there ever a right moment to tell someone you are dying? Probably not, so it’s best to be open and honest. If they know you well, they may already have guessed something is wrong or noticed a change in your behaviour.
Don't try to shock people. Instead, use a gentle opening line. A good conversation opener is to say something like, “I had a hospital appointment last week and was given some bad news…”. Be factual about the information you provide and deliver it in bite-size chunks, one statement at a time so they have a chance to take it in. Don’t lie to soften the blow, be honest and explain as much as you can, especially if you know how much time you have left.
Try to choose a time and location where you will not be interrupted. If you think that the recipient of the news will get very upset, it is perhaps best not to do this in a public place. However, some people find the hum of a busy location like a cafe a welcome distraction – it can add a level of normality to the conversation.
How will people react to learning this?
Reactions can vary and you can expect almost anything. The most common reactions are silence, shock, or tears. Some people respond with disbelief, particularly if you appear healthy or are not particularly old. You may want to have some tissues ready. 😢 There is no need to be embarrassed about crying or displaying your own emotions.
And some people may need several days to fully come to terms with what you have told them. Be available for their calls or messages as you might need to repeat some of the information you have told them. Disbelief can also be a strong reaction and some family or friends may encourage you to seek a second opinion. If you already have, try and be patient with this response.
Helping your friends and family to help you cope with your terminal illness
When you give people the news that you are dying, you have the advantage of prior knowledge. A natural human response is for people to want to do something to help you. So before you tell someone, see if you can think of something helpful they can do which will allow them to offer you support.
If you're comfortable, letting family and friends help with the practical and emotional journey you are on will help them in return.
Writing a letter 💌
Some people find it easier to write down information, thoughts and feelings rather than sharing them face to face. It can be easier to get all of the information down and is a physical gift that can be treasured forever by your loved one.
A letter is an opportunity to say more than just the facts about your terminal illness. You can express your love for that person, share precious memories, and have a chance to forgive anything in the past. Don’t be afraid to be honest about how you are feeling. If you are frightened of what lies ahead, then say so. Your letter should be a real, living message.
Handwriting a letter is far more personal than typing it as you can add in pictures or little sentimental bits. Write the letter as if they were sitting directly in front of you. They want to hear your voice when they read it. Write those hackneyed phrases or clichés you say in real life, people want a personal connection to you. Don’t be afraid to be intimate.
A handwritten letter can be delivered in person and read before your death or afterwards. You could write a series of letters to your loved ones, either to be read at the time or on a specific date. Don’t rely on these letters being discovered though, tell someone where they are. Some people even write letters for many years ahead, such as 18th birthdays or their children’s wedding day. 💛
What Else Can You Do to Help Your Family?
Check Your Life Insurance
Check your life insurance policies, if you have any. Here are some specific steps you can take to look after your family, even in the last season of life:
- Make sure the information is up to date so there are no delays in processing a life insurance claim in the future.
- Check to see if your life cover, such as critical illness cover, helps with the costs of palliative care.
If there is time, consider writing your life insurance into trust. This will help your family avoid any life insurance payout delays due to probate.
If you're reading this and don't have life insurance, then please consider taking out a policy. Imagine the relief you would feel if you received such devastating news but knew your term life policy was going to give your loved ones a more secure future. Hop on our website and get a free quote in 15 minutes or less!
Update Your Will
While conversations and letters can be helpful and even necessary sometimes, if you don’t have a will, please get one today. We have a simple online platform that helps you keep all of your important documents and gifts for your loved ones in one place.
Taking 15 minutes out of your day is important, knowing that your loved ones will know your final wishes. To learn more about why you should get a will, read 5 Reasons to Get a Will. Get a will today!