Self- Assessment of Attitudes,
Beliefs and Opinions
on Death & Dying
1. To the best of your memory, at
what age were you first aware of death?
Under the age of 3
Age 3 to 5
Age 5 to 10
Age 10 and up
2. When you were a child, how was death talked
about in your family?
As though death were a forbidden subject
With some discomfort
Don't remember any talk about death
Only when necessary, and not in front of children
3. Which of the following most influences
the way you think about death now?
4. Has religion played an important part in the
way you think about death?
Death of someone close
TV, movies, radio
Things you have read
Length of time family members have lived
5. How often do you think about your
Not very important
No part at all
6. What does death mean to you?
At least once a day
Not more than once a year
Never or almost never
7. What thing about your own death bothers you
The end of life
End of physical life, the spirit lives on
Endless sleep and peace
A new beginning, of life after death
8. What do you believe causes most deaths?
I could no longer have any experiences
I am afraid of what might happen to my body after
I am not sure what will happen to me if there is
life after death
I could no longer provide for my family
My relatives and friends would grieve
The process of dying might be painful
Most deaths happen because the person wants to die
Most deaths happen because of the way the person
uses or fails to use things such as tobacco, alcohol, medicines, or seat
Most deaths just happen
9. If your doctor knew that you would die from
a disease and had a limited time left to live, would you want the doctor
to tell you?
10. If it were possible, would you want
to know the exact date on which you were going to die?
Depends on circumstances
Self Assessment Meaning
Answers Adapted for Presentation
to Medical Students
1. What age were you first aware of death?
Your initial experiences with death impact your
actions today. Being around a dying person may bring back pleasant
or unpleasant childhood memories, family beliefs, traditions.
2. Most individuals, whose families talked openly
about death, show the same comfort level in their adult years and can related
comfortable childhood conversations about death with family members.
It also appears that those who are comfortable talking about death are
interested in and/or not afraid of learning more about the death process.
3. Our views about death come from various sources.
TV and movies, and life’s actual experience may contradict each other.
Our views and our concepts of death may align with TV and movies until
we actually are touched by a real death. "Real death" experiences
may lead people to become less tolerant of the TV's and movies' point of
view. Through the efforts of the Lasts acts’ Hollywood Initiative end-of-life
topics have been influenced in such shows as ER, Gideon’s Crossing and
4. Research has indicated, those who have a spiritual
point of view about death are more comfortable with the dying. Those who
are more comfortable with their own mortality have a greater ability to
cope, when dealing with death and dying.
5. How often we think of our own death can range
from denial (never) to preoccupation (once a day). Typically awareness
of our own mortality increases when we are exposed to the dying, which
can make us feel uncomfortable. Children do not consider the reality of
death until someone they know dies.
6. Examining what you expect after death has
a big impact on your attitude toward the dying. Individuals with
a predetermined idea of what happens after death are generally more comfortable
with the idea of dying. If you answered "don't know" then you may
be feeling uncomfortable with this discussion.
An opinion of an afterlife or specific religion
does not usually influence the person's comfort with death. Those, who
do not believe in an afterlife, can also be quite comfortable with death.
7. Examining your fears about your own death
helps you to recognize situations that may make you uncomfortable around
the dying. These fears are a common reason why family members or
friends refuse to visit a dying loved one. Their behavior may be
interpreted as uncaring, but it in reality these people need support and
understanding in helping them to deal with the uncomfortable situation.
8. Beliefs, about why people die, can range from
punishments to a natural ending of the human life. Some want to believe
that victims cause their own misfortune because it makes life so much easier
to understand. It is a great comfort to find fault with a dying person
because it guarantees that we will somehow be protected. Those that
hold this belief are shocked when they realized that death is not partial
9. Have you thought about the possibility that
a doctor or family member might try to keep you from knowing that you are
This is less commonplace in our western culture
today, but not uncommon with other cultures. Some people request
that their family never tell them when they are dying—they do not want
to loss hope. It is important to respect the wishes of the dying. Family
members may try and keep the truth from their loved ones, even dying children.
Often the dying, even children, "know" something--they can sense it. If
the dying person wishes to talk about their death, it is important that
family members allow these discussions.
10. There are few people who want to know the
exact date of their death. This is a difficult question to ponder.
Placing a time frame on death—the you have "X" months to live—can have
a strong psychological impact on the person. For some they may be positive
motivators—cancer, AIDS patients defying the odds and living long past
what their physicians expected. For others it may be a negative motivator—a
prediction of a bad outcome becomes a bad outcome.
Adapted by Trudy M. Weathersby Dying Guide at
an assessment tool from Michael Seago, Medical Innovations, 1994.
Reprinted by permission from Trudy M. Weathersby.