Chapter 4: Conversations at the end of life
Keeping secrets about death
Family members sometimes want to keep the seriousness of an illness secret. They may not want to tell the dying person that her cancer has spread, or a child that a beloved family member is dying.
While there is no perfect decision, health care professionals in Canada generally support the right of the ill and dying to have access to information about their condition, and to determine how much of that information they want. Not knowing they are dying can rob people of the opportunity to attend to important matters before their death.
Many people think that withholding the information that a person is dying will lessen his or her worry. However, keeping secrets can actually increase anxiety for all concerned. A wall of silence may develop between the ill person and the family as they seek to protect each other. Family members may not realize that their desire to protect may prevent their loved one from asking for what they need.
Knowing the truth about their illness does not mean taking away hope. People near death hope for different things, such as finding meaning in the moment; taking pleasure from a visit; finding comfort; and for a good and peaceful death.