Talking about death and dying

Talking about death is not easy for most people. But sharing what is important about what you want and what will happen can help everyone feel more comfortable.

Being able to talk about death will make it easy to understand and to discuss care at the end of life.

Being prepared

When we are able to talk about death and dying, we can also talk about what’s important in our life. This can be very empowering. We can also find out what our family and friends are thinking and if they have worries and concerns as well.

For children it can help them understand what is happening and be able to share important stories and memories. Being able to talk about the future means we have time to seek information. Knowledge and ability to ask questions means that we can support people providing care and people needing care. 

Conversations also give the opportunity to organise practical things like wills, funerals and preferences about life support machines and organ donation. It can help us be prepared for the realities of dying and to make sure that we can help the person’s preferences for care at the end of life are realised.

The Age UK website has resources available to help start difficult end of life conversations.

Resources include Let's talk about death and dying video and a booklet that can be downloaded (1.16MB pdf) and printed to be read later.

Explaining dying

All deaths affect the family and friends as well as those who provide care. However, most people die peacefully. Knowing that there was good care and a chance for the family to say their goodbyes can help you create a positive way forward.

Watch Dying is not as bad as you think (3:49mins), a video by palliative care doctor and author Kathryn Mannix who suggests it is time to break the taboo that exists around death (published 29 March 2018 on the BBC website).

Many people have not sat with someone who is dying and may not understand what is happening. There are some common signs that death is approaching.

While some people are worried about being with someone who is dying, it can be a very special time. Talk to your family member or hold their hand. 

Offer them sips of water or moisten their lips. You could read a special book or play their favourite music.

You are reassuring them that you are there and that you care about them.

Signs that death is near

  • Little interest in food or drinks
  • Spends more time sleeping and may be difficult to rouse
  • Increasing difficulty swallowing
  • Very weak and tired
  • May lose control of bowel and bladder
  • May have rattling sounds in the chest
  • Breathing patterns may be erratic
  • Feet and hands may be cool and mottled.

Remember each person is different and there is not a timetable for dying.

CarerHelp, a partner project, has a pathway with information on how to care for a dying person.

After someone dies

If the death occurred in the aged care facility or if the resident died in a hospital, the staff will help you with practical matters. You will be able to spend time with your family member after death and say your last farewells. The staff will help prepare the body and organise for a certificate of death to be made. This will enable a funeral director to pick up the body for funeral arrangements.

If the older person was living at home, the death is likely to have been expected. Their doctor will probably have been in touch with you or other close friends or family to discuss what will happen next. You can call the doctor's surgery to ask them to visit as soon as possible after the death to help with post-death care.

CarerHelp, our partner project, has a sheet on what happens after the death.

CareSearch has information on making arrangements after someone dies in the Patients and Carers section.

CarerHelp's After the death (120kb pdf)

This information was drawn from the following resources:

Last updated 02 August 2021