Courageous Conversations: How To Speak About Death and Dying
It’s National Hospice Month, which means it is a great time to support your local hospice and educate yourself on the ways that hospice impacts a community. Hospice care is essential in every community, but it is often hard to talk about. This is because the topic of death can be a difficult one to navigate. Luckily, hospices don’t just serve as a resource for the terminally ill – we are here to help you through hard conversations.
This National Hospice Month the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization is all about “Courageous Conversations”. At Hospice of the Fisher Home, we are joining in on the campaign to create meaningful dialogues surrounding death.
Death is something that we have been taught to resist. Even our healthcare system tends to shy away from discussing one of the most natural parts of being human. This means that when you or a loved one reaches the point of being terminally ill, it might be hard to have a conversation about it. We want to help make it easier. So, we’ve developed a quick guide to help you navigate these dialogues. Hopefully, this will bring you some peace of mind.
If you believe in the power of hospice and want to help Hospice of the Fisher Home continue caring for patients and educating our community, please consider donating to our capital campaign.
Why Are Conversations Around Death and Dying Important?
Open dialogue about death and dying helps break the stigma. When we can have honest conversations on a tough subject, we can dispel the fear. Oftentimes, people will shy away from discussing death. When we talk honestly about death we can:
Open up the conversation
Get financial affairs in order
Discuss last wishes
Support each other
We understand that death is a hard topic to broach. But, if we do not start discussing it openly now when the time comes when information is needed, we may not have it.
People may even stop themselves from sharing their wishes, needs, and wants when they are terminally ill because of the fear that comes with dying (and talking about it).
Now, we can’t take away the fear of death altogether. But, by having conversations and learning more about something that we may not understand, we can become more comfortable with it.
How to Talk About Death and Dying:
Starting the Conversation
This is the first step to talking about death with your loved one, but it is the scariest! We understand that the fears surrounding this could range from worrying if you are hurting someone’s feelings or not knowing if you are saying the right thing.
Your feelings are also dependent on who you are in the conversation. Are you a family member of the terminally ill? A friend or someone who is going through the hospice process? Or the hospice patient? No matter who you are, here are some tips for starting the conversation off on the right note.
If possible, talk face-to-face. However, if that isn’t possible opt for a phone call over written messages.
Choose a space that is quiet and comfortable for all members of the conversation.
Recognize the right opportunity. A conversation around death might come up at an unexpected time. But, seizing the moment will feel more natural and therefore, easier!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about death. This allows everyone to voice their feelings.
Talk about your own experiences. Use “I feel” and “I think” as sentence beginners so that people can see that you are coming from your lens.
Avoid indirect phrases and euphemisms. When discussing this heavy topic it is so important to be open, honest, and direct. If you are speaking with someone with dementia or a child, then being straightforward is more important than ever!
Remember, there is no right way to have this conversation. There are so many layers to conversations about death and dying. Follow your instincts and trust that you know how to navigate tough situations. Most importantly, it is okay if you don't know what to say or how to say it. As long as you listen and share honestly, then you are doing a great job.
Like and follow the Fisher Home Facebook page, where we will be sharing Courageous Conversation Starters to help you navigate talking about death and dying.
How to Talk About Death and Dying
As we’ve said, we know this is an intense conversation. It can feel so overwhelming! Additionally, everyone has a different reaction to this topic, depending on their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. So, remember to be patient with yourself and others.
Here are some tips for your conversation:
Be honest - It is natural to cover your words up with humor or try to think of the ‘right’ thing to say. But, the most important part of talking about death is being candid. You know how you are feeling, be honest about it – even if you are honestly overwhelmed and/or confused!
Be respectful - You never know how the other members of your conversation are feeling and you don’t know exactly where they are coming from. But, you can try your hardest to be respectful of whatever they say.
Keep your ears open - Conversations, especially those with heavy topics like death, are sometimes more about listening than talking. Keep your ears (and your heart) open. Listen to your loved ones words and tone of voice.
Stay calm - Discussing emotions is difficult! There’s no doubt about that. Remember to take deep breaths throughout these tough conversations.
Use body language - Body language is an important part of conversations. Look your loved one in the eye, listen actively, and be mindful of your facial expressions.
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions - Say what you really mean and invite your loved one to do the same. Do not be afraid to cry! While remaining calm is good, you should not hold back tears if you feel them coming on. Crying is a natural response.
Open the conversation up to the other people in the room - Your viewpoint is necessary! But, you should remember to open the conversation up to others.
Ask questions - One way to open the conversation up is by asking questions. You can ask questions for clarification throughout the conversation, and they can be great starters. For example, you can ask “How are you doing?” or “Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” to begin the conversation.
Don’t fear silence - You don’t have to speak the whole time for an honest, meaningful conversation. Spending time in silence can be enough to show your support.
Finally, getting support is an essential part of going through the process of either you or a loved one dying. Reaching out to professional mental healthcare specialists, bereavement counselors, or spiritual guides can be helpful. By just reading this blog post, you are taking a step in the right direction. You should be proud of yourself!
Remember, there is no right way to go about this. Just be respectful and open throughout the process.
Follow us on social media to see what we are doing throughout National Hospice Month to start meaningful conversations around death and dying. If you liked this blog post and want to support Hospice of the Fisher Home’s mission, consider donating today!