We Need to Talk...


Published: 16 August 2018

Talking about dying isn’t a completely taboo idea, yet even in this day and age, both healthcare professionals and non-professionals find the concept daunting.

Professional organisations such as Palliative Care Australia (and Dying to Talk) and Care Search have dedicated areas within their websites for talking about death, and some hospitals are now providing information packs on admission concerning advanced care directives.

Four years ago when my Dad was dying, talking about it was the best thing we did.

We made jokes, organised the funeral, and also had serious conversations, but it all provided a comfort knowing that there was no feelings of, “I wish I had got to say that…” afterwards.

Wind forward to last month, where I have just watched my Aunt and cousins go through the same ritual while my Uncle was dying. Their conversations, however, were the opposite.

None of them spoke much to each other about my Uncle dying, and when they did try, someone would walk out of the room. The emotions were too hard to face.

My mother was a constant point of contact for my cousins as it was her brother-in-law who was passing. However, as she stated, “I can only tell them so much.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with grief, however talking provides an openness that can comfort all. Theres’ no right or wrong way to talk about dying within your family as it is such an individual experience.

Having worked in palliative care, I have seen the relief on peoples faces when I have spoken to them openly about dying. Obviously, it is essential to gauge the situation and the rapport that you have with the family and the patient before starting the conversation.

Patients often expect the health professional to initiate conversations about dying, however that can be hard when the health professional themselves may be anxious and unsure what to say.

Remember that health professionals can’t always heal every patient, but it is important that comfort and reassurance is provided as the patient moves towards the end of life.

As Terry Pratchett once said:

“It’s not morbid to talk about death. Most people don’t worry about death, they worry about a bad death.”


Portrait of Sandra Dash
Sandra Dash

Sandra Dash began her nursing career in 1993 in New South Wales working in trauma, orthopaedics and ICU. Sandra then spent the next 9 years working in the Northern Territory, NSW and Victoria with the Australian Defence Force. During this time she found her beginning in Nursing Education, teaching at both University and TAFE levels earning a Master’s of Health Science (Nursing Education). In 2010, Sandra moved to Queensland and began the most rewarding career in palliative care, through which she has not only cared for people at a distressing time in their life, but has also been able to continue her passion for education. See Educator Profile