November is National Hospice
and Palliative Care Month!

But even if you don’t work for a Hospice Care Provider,
chances are good that you care for people who are
terminally ill or facing the end of life.

How do you talk about death when the end is near?

For most of us, death brings out feelings that we would
rather not have, such as fear, anger, guilt, and grief.
And it’s these feelings that might make
talking about death difficult. 

Feelings drive behaviors.

  • If you are angry about death, you may not be sensitive to the needs of your dying clients.  You might just think, “Oh, get on with it and die already!  Everyone has to die at some point!”
  • If you feel guilty about death, you might go overboard when you take care of dying clients.  You might forget about keeping a professional distance and get too involved with the client and the family. 
  • If you are full of grief over family, friends, or clients who have died, you may be too sad to be of much help to another dying client.

Coming to terms with your feelings about death will make it much easier for you to have helpful and healthy conversations with your clients and their family members.

Here are 5 tips that may help:

1. Become a good listener.

One of the most important ways that you can communicate with a dying client or his family is to listen!

2. Try not to interrupt. 

Sometimes, it’s tempting to interrupt the other person, especially when a client or his family is talking to you about death.  If you are uncomfortable talking about death and dying, you may try to change the subject to something more “cheerful.”  However, it’s important to let your clients talk about what is on their minds, even if it is uncomfortable for you.  Let them finish.

3. Let silences happen. 

Being a good listener means that sometimes you have to let there be silence.  Don’t think that you have to fill the air up with words.  If there is a pause in the conversation, accept it.  Let your client know you are supportive just by being there.  Words aren’t always necessary.

4. Help clients reminisce.

Ask about special pictures your client keeps close by.  Or, try asking questions like “How did you meet your husband?“ or “Can you tell me about your career as a school teacher?“  These questions might seem like “small talk,” but they often help people to begin talking about their feelings.

5.Give the right answers.

Clients may ask questions that take you by surprise, such as “Am I going to die?” This question requires honest, open communication.  If you don’t know the answer, then say “That’s a question for your doctor.”  If you know for sure that the person is dying, then being honest about it gives your client the chance to live out their days on their own terms. You might say, “Yes, you are dying.  Is there anything you would like to do while you are still here?”

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The tips in this post come from our course, “Talking about Death”
It’s just one of the 52 courses available to individuals who
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