Let’s talk about death and dying

Let's Talk about Death and Dying! cover

This blog post was contributed by Lesley Carter, Joint Head of Health Influencing at Age UK. 

“How people die remains in the memory of those who live on”, Cicely Saunders (1918-2005), founder of the modern hospice movement. 

Positive advances in health care and public health mean that most of us will die later in life. Hooray! Yet most of us have never had a conversation with someone we love about death and dying and actually most of us don’t really want to. I think it’s a generational thing. But this is not the best place to be – this approach will not help us cope with our own death, or that of a loved one, or to manage our own feelings during death and bereavement.

None of us will escape death so its best that we get ourselves prepared – just knowing what’s important to that person will empower us to ensure that when death comes, it’s as peaceful as possible for all concerned. Having these conversations early on will ensure that everyone feels they have been included and were able to be part of a discussion, and they know what’s going on and can help smooth family dynamics.

With the help of the Department of Health Strategic Partners Fund, we were able to secure a budget to find out what people were doing around preparing for death in later life, and create some materials about this. We undertook some social research with members of the public to test some of our hypotheses and listen to people’s ideas worries and expectations.

We found that:

  • Most people could talk generally about death and dying with their own peer group
  • Younger people did not feel comfortable about speaking to their older friends and relatives and closed down conversations
  • Older people found it difficult to talk about wanting to stop treatment and let nature take its course
  • Older people found their grown up children do not want grandparents to discuss their death with their grandchildren – even when they have a positive relationship and may take on a fair amount of childcare responsibilities
  • All age groups felt that they had no idea of what may happen when people approach the end of life
  • All groups felt that a well-illustrated bright resource, like a Ladybird book, would be a good idea

Let’s Talk About Death and Dying – the booklet and animation 

The booklet we have published, and companion animation (above), is designed to be used as a tool for everyone – family, friends, grown up children, and grandchildren – to help start conversations about death and dying and is about positivity and empowerment. It encourages us all to be confident to question each other and allows us all to be sure that our loved ones’ worries about dying and death are acknowledged before the end of life comes.

It explains about the physical changes that may happen during the process of death; sometimes if we don’t understand, situations become harder and more frightening.

Having these informal conversations will pave the way for more official conversations about Power of Attorney and wills, and ‘do not resuscitate’ decisions. All of which make people feel extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable.

There’s a section on what happens next with links to the administrative process that takes place when someone has died.

I hope that you find this book and animation helpful in sparking conversations and would be interested to hear your thoughts. Has it helped you start talking about this more? What did you think about the book?

Find out more about Let’s talk about death and dying on the Age UK website 


Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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