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Advice on how to start a conversation about death

Posted onPosted on 15th May

Working with Independent Age, the older people’s charity, psychologist Corinne Sweet has shared her advice for talking about end of life plans and wishes, which is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of Independent Age’s advice relating to coronavirus can be viewed at:

1. Timing – COVID-19 may mean the subject of death is on your mind more often than before, but it’s important to choose the right time to bring up talking about future plans, when you won’t be rushed. You might want to prepare the other person in advance by saying something like, ‘I know this is awkward to talk about, but I wouldn’t know what you would want to happen to you if you got ill, or even died. I’d really like to know, so can we talk about it? I’m happy to do the same about me. When would be a good time?’

2. Location – Considering where to talk is as important as when. Try to ensure you can find somewhere where you won’t be disturbed and, if possible, can talk in person. If you don’t live together then you could explore whether a video call would work, rather than simply talking over the phone.

3. Do your research – Make sure you know what the options are so you can discuss preferences. Independent Age can help you with this – just call the helpline on 0800 319 6789 for information, to order a guide or to arrange to speak to an adviser. The charity has a free advice guide about planning for the end of life which you can download at

4. Put yourself in their shoes
– Make sure you listen to the other person, and hear what they have to say. These can be difficult decisions to make, with emotions often running high. No-one likes to talk about their own death, or the death of someone they love, but saying nothing at all is often worse, and in some cases you might even find it a relief to talk about it.

5. Be prepared – There can be a lot to consider and discuss so consider writing notes in advance to help compose your thoughts and ensure you cover everything you want to. Make sure you note down what you agree and check it afterwards with the person. It’s easy to make mistakes when tender or difficult feelings are involved.

6. You don’t have to cover everything at once – It doesn’t matter if you can’t resolve everything straight away. You can talk things over again once everyone has had time to consider what you’ve discussed together.

7. Don’t worry about getting emotional – You know you need to try to be sensitive to each other’s feelings but you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about getting emotional. You may feel sad or embarrassed, or afraid or awkward, or even angry about having to talk about death with a loved one. Be kind and honest with yourself and talk about your feelings as well.

8. Pick the right person to start the conversation – Get help to start the conversation if you feel it’s too difficult, but don’t involve too many people and remember that the best person might not be you: another relative, or someone neutral like a GP or social worker might be better. Many GPs are still taking appointments over the phone, so speak to them about how they might be able to help.

9. Ask leading questions – Prepare open, rather than just closed questions. For example, ‘How would you like to be cared for if you got very ill with coronavirus?’; ‘Do you have a particular wishes or a Living Will I should know about if things turned for the worse?’; ‘If you died, do you have funeral plans and other wishes you’d like me to honour and what are they?’

10. Think about your own plans too – It’s never too early to start thinking about what you would want if you became ill or died. It might help to make plans together. None of us knows what will happen in the future, but being prepared now could make things easier later.