Talking with family when you have a life-limiting illness

Not every family talks openly with each other. This often may not change, even though you have a life-limiting illness or you are dying.

Communication can be difficult but not impossible.

Decide the best ways in which you, your carer and your family members can talk with each other. If you enjoy good relationships starting the conversation might be easy, or it might not. Sometimes a shared film or song can help to start people thinking and talking about death.

When talking is difficult

Sometimes events that are not related to your illness have made talking with each other more difficult. Family members often move away to other areas. Divorce and remarriage can create new families. These things mean that people communicate in a different way.

  • You may have had difficult relationships in the past. You may have new relationships that are fragile. This can mean that problems get worse at such a stressful time. Family members often have different views. There can be long standing differences.
  • Knowing that you are dying may mean that you want to reconnect with family members, former partners or friends. This can bring its own difficulties but also often great rewards and peace of mind.
  • In many cases your carer will be a family member. Sometimes your carer will be a neighbour or close friend. Communication between your carer and your family could become difficult. Sometimes there can be conflict.

Sometimes it can help if your health care team arranges a family meeting (or case conference). This can provide a place for family members to ask questions and find out what is happening and what is needed. If family live far away it might be possible to use services like Skype to bring everyone together.

There will be important information that you need to share with different people. Remember, the palliative care team may be able to help you to look at communication with those important to you.

Last updated 02 August 2021