Living happens to all of us. Dying happens to all of us. Zen hospice project

Talking about death

Fear or anxiety about dying can impact how we live in the day to day, and on the quality of life and time left to us. But like many things that worry us, talking about and sharing those fears can help reduce them.

Most of us have thought about death, but it’s hard to talk about. Many people with cancer don’t want to talk about death because they do not want to burden family members and loved ones. We often find that family members share similar fears but don’t talk about them because they want to protect the person with cancer. Talking about death and sharing fears can help the fear become more manageable.

Maria, psychologist

For some of us, the fear of leaving others behind and worrying how they will cope can be what makes death difficult to talk about. There are people and resources to help with these conversations and decisions:

  • A pastoral carer, counsellor or psychologist will support you and those close to you, with talking about and approaching end of life.
  • Programs (usually lead by a psychologist) that focus on relationships, identifying meaning and values, leaving a legacy and planning for how you want to die and be at the end of life
  • You don’t have to speak about the dying itself – sometimes the most important things is what we say to those we care about – telling someone that you love them and are proud of them might be the most important thing to you
  • Nearing the end of life can be a spiritual time. Some people focus on their spiritual needs towards the end of life helping them to find meaning and purpose.

A useful reference for those who want to read further is Staring at the Sun: 2008 by psychotherapist Irvin Yalom about coming to terms with anxiety about death.

Listen to some prominent Australians speak about end of life issues and how to start a conversation about death in the Dying to Talk series produced by Palliative Care Australia.


The most beautiful things in life are not things. They’re people and places and memories and pictures. They’re feelings and moments and smiles and laughter.

Dr Jennifer Philip talks about death and preparing for this time.

Talking to Children

If there are children in the family it is important to let them know what is happening. Children will often sense something is wrong, and so not telling them may add to their anxiety. More information is provided in the Cancer Council’s Talking to Kids About Cancer (pdf).


Affairs in order

Sorting out your affairs such as finalising finances and legal documents, your will and having an advance care plan is reassuring for patients and important for those left after the death of a loved one.

Airloom is a space to store all of the end of life documentation required including financial documents, advanced care plan, legal documents, funeral plans and memories. The platform is easily shared amongst family members, which reduces miscommunication during what can be a very stressful time for families.

Writing letters or cards is a way of documenting personal thoughts and messages, a way of leaving something from the heart.  This is an example of an emotional will (Adapted from Dying to Know, 2014).

emotional will

I tell my wife every day is a bonus for me. I get up, I sleep in the night, I do not know if I will wake up in the morning.

Ishan, with late stage pancreatic cancer.