Make a Referral Donate Now
Ashgate Hospice > Why language matters when discussing death and dying

We are lucky in this country because we rarely ‘die’. We are far more likely to ‘pass away’ or ‘go to sleep’, while the fortunate ones ‘go to a better place’. We just need to be careful that we don’t get ‘lost’ or ‘slip away!’

Death and dying carry deep meaning across cultures and religions. It’s not surprising that there are many other words and metaphors to use instead.

Discussing death and dying with our loved ones can be challenging, stirring up a range of emotions. We often rely on phrases and metaphors to gently broach the topic, perhaps as a way to ease discomfort. Yet, deep down, it might also serve as a shield, allowing us to sidestep uncomfortable or awkward conversations.

If society struggles to use the word ‘dying’, it’s not surprising that health professionals do too. Doctors and nurses often use a type of indirect language to talk about death and dying. You may have heard phrases like ‘no further treatment’ or ‘very poorly’ being used. Whilst meant kindly, these phrases can be misunderstood:

‘No further treatment’ – great I must be doing well.
‘Very poorly’ – but could I get better?

We understand that shifting towards using direct language about death and dying can be challenging. Here’s some tips on how to develop skills of empathy and compassion and overcome any fears you might have:

Acknowledge your feelings: Recognise that it’s normal to feel apprehensive or uncomfortable when discussing death. Acknowledging your emotions is the first step towards overcoming them.

Educate yourself: Learn more about death and dying to demystify the topic and alleviate fears. Understanding the natural process of death and the cultural and religious significance surrounding it can help put your mind at ease.

Practice compassionate communication: Approach conversations about death with empathy and compassion. Focus on active listening, validating others’ feelings, and providing support without judgment.

Start small: Begin by having conversations about death in a safe and supportive environment. This might be with close friends or family members. Gradually increase your comfort level by discussing the topic more openly over time.

Use direct language: Embrace direct language when discussing death and dying. Avoid vague terms that may obscure the reality of the situation. Using clear and honest language can facilitate open communication and understanding.

Seek support: Don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you’re struggling with fears or concerns about death. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional can provide comfort and reassurance.

Reflect on your beliefs: Take time to reflect on your personal beliefs and values surrounding death. Exploring your own beliefs can help you gain clarity and confidence in discussing the topic with others.

Practice self-care: Engage in self-care activities that help alleviate stress and anxiety related to death and dying. Whether it’s meditation, exercise, or spending time in nature, prioritise activities that promote emotional wellbeing.

Celebrate life: Remember to focus on the beauty and preciousness of life, even when discussing death. Embracing a positive outlook can help shift your perspective and reduce feelings of fear or apprehension.

Take one step at a time: Overcoming fears about discussing death is a gradual process. Be patient with yourself and take small steps towards greater comfort and confidence in addressing the topic openly and honestly.

By implementing these tips, you can gradually overcome any fears you may have about using direct language when discussing death and dying.

Shelagh Freeman - End of Life Care Facilitator

Blog post by Shelagh Freeman, End of Life Care Facilitator

We hope you have found this blog post helpful.

If you need any further support or information, read more about the support offered by our Counselling team.