Sensitive matters at the end of life: 15 questions


Author: Carl Knightly

It’s quite common that someone who knows they are approaching the end of their life has things they’d like to talk about. However there is sometimes a “conspiracy of silence” and it’s difficult to raise the subject. This sheet could act as an ice breaker or be used by the person approaching the end of their life, a family member, friend or by someone outside the family who is visiting in a caring role.


I wrote this resource for a longstanding friend who knew that he was dying. He created the title. What follows is written as “I” and “You”.


My “ground rules” include:

  • The “agenda” is yours & it’s for you to decide whether you’d like to include anyone else in the conversation.
  • You can say pass, I don’t or I can’t talk about this on any topic.
  • You can press the pause button if you get emotional (understandably common) or tired.
  • What you say to me is confidential, unless you specifically ask me to communicate it to someone else.


There are potentially lots of topics we could cover. I don’t want to exhaust you! Some of them you have probably already covered and some you may not want to cover. You may find it helpful to share the list with your spouse, partner or other immediate members of your family and use that as a catalyst to cover things you haven’t been able to so far.


  • Are there things you’d like to talk about?
  • Are there questions that you have?
  • Is there anything that worries you about the future?
  • What have you already discussed with your family/others closest to you?
  • What would you still like to talk to them about? We can talk about ways to bring up difficult topics.
  • Are you scared of dying and if so do you know why? We may be able to consider ways to ease that.
  • What do you understand to be your prognosis? Is that understood by all your immediate family/those closest to you?
  • Do you have a faith/belief/world view? How might this help you at this time?
  • Do you have questions around belief and faith, especially in relation to death and/or life after death?
  • What practical things do you already have in place e.g. living will, powers of attorney, funeral plans, will & executors, letters to family members? Is there anything that you still need to do? We can talk about how some of these things could be done, if that would help.
  • Have you explained to anyone (verbally or in writing) why you have written your will as it is? This could avoid misunderstandings later.
  • Are there particular pieces of music or books you’d like to have playing in the last stages of life? Who would you like to be with you in those last hours? Has this already been communicated to those closest to you and to any care or medical staff?
  • Have you been present when someone else has been dying? Do you want to talk about some of the physical things that may happen to you? NB This is likely to be reassuring rather than scary.
  • What are your main concerns about “after you’ve gone”? We may be able to consider ways to alleviate some of these.
  • Is there anything else I or anyone else can do to support you and the people close to you over the coming days and weeks?



Top tips for choosing a care home or nursing home  – ‘Helen’s Headlines’

30 activities for hospital and hospice visiting – ‘Helen’s Headlines’

“Time to live: A beginners guide to saying goodbye” – Ann Clifford


Author & copyright: Helen Calder 2019


Helen Calder has developed and runs the ‘Retiring Well’ course [which is listed on our website training page]. This is one of the many resources available through, which draws on 40 years experience to equip individuals, churches and charities. Helen mentors women in leadership roles, trains charity trustees and writes practical resources from her extensive experience of ministry leadership, including Director roles at All Souls Langham Place and at the Evangelical Alliance.