How to Tell People You're Dying
Having to tell 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 doing it face to face whilst others choose to write a letter. In a letter, you can speak without fear of interruption. There are even some who broadcast the news on social media. There is no right or wrong way to share the news but do your best to make it personal.
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 they 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.
The right moment
Is there ever a right moment to tell someone you are dying? Probably not, so it’s best to be open and honest with the person sitting in front of you. If they know you well, they may already have guessed something is wrong or noticed a change in your behaviour.
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, but be honest, especially if you know how much time you have left.
Try and 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. These conversations may be tough, but they are necessary and incredibly important.
How will people react?
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 take stock and 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
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 constructive 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 the information, and their thoughts and feelings rather than conveying them face to face. It can be easier to get all of the information down and is a physical momento 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 any past acts. 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. It’s a great way to say things that may be too difficult face to face.
Handwriting a letter is far more personal than typing it. Add in pictures or little mementos. 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 💛.
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 gift information for your loved ones in one place. Those you have chosen to connect with your account will then have everything they need to to take care of your estate after you’re gone. It’s free, so sign up for a will today and make sure the right people get the right things.