Difficult Conversations

When you are ill, there are many difficult decisions to be made. There will also be difficult situations to deal with. It can be hard to talk about certain things. These will be different for each person. It could be about your feelings and emotions. It may be about your finances or care directions. It may be that you are worried about your family and friends.

Sometimes you will make choices that others may not agree with. This can be difficult to talk about. An example could be in making end-of-life decisions. It could be about arranging your will or funeral.

It may be easier to avoid talking about death and dying or things that are worrying you. You may worry that certain issues will be too upsetting and you won’t raise them. Sometimes it can be a relief when someone does talk about these things.

Perhaps you will need to be the one who initiates these conversations. Some ways to start a conversation might include:

  • The doctor is saying that the treatment isn’t working. I think it would be good for us to talk about what is happening…
  • Things don’t look very good at the moment…
  • I don’t want to make us cry, but I’m scared about what’s ahead…
  • It feels like we’re running out of time and I’d like to talk about things before it’s too late…
  • I’m worried that you are very sick and we haven’t really talked about what you want to do with regards to…
  • I would really like to make the most of the time we have left together. Can we talk about what is happening?

Ask your palliative care team to help direct you to the information or support that you need. There are also resources listed below for more suggestions on what to say.




  • From Cancer Australia, a resource developed to help people with metastatic (secondary) cancer talk about how palliative care might help them to live as well as possible when cancer has spread ‘Finding the Words’
  • The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has produced a booklet for consumers called Communicating end-of-life wishes (294kb pdf) that has some helpful ideas on how to start conversations.


  • The Dying Matters website has a video called A party For Kath
  • The UK website healthtalk has a section on Living with dying with interviews with people who are dying, talking about their different feelings and experiences.

Last updated 22 August 2018