Talking about death
Hands up, how many of us have had a conversation about death? If not, you’re not alone. It’s a tough thing to talk about. We avoid the enormity of the subject with phrases such as ‘kick the bucket’ and ‘pop your clogs’. And if we do happen to mention in passing that we’d like to be buried, not cremated, it’s usually followed up very quickly with a change of subject!
In fact, 55% of people prefer to say ‘passed’ or ‘passing’, while only 29% will say ‘dead’ or ‘dying’. If it’s hard to even say the word, how can we expect to have a conversation?
Unfortunately the simplicity of the language we tend to use to talk about death reflects the basic nature of the conversations we are having with our loved ones.
Why don’t we talk about death?
It is said that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life, so why is the latter talked about so much more? You can’t scroll through social media these days without seeing a tax reminder or an advert for bookkeeping software!
One reason we don’t talk about death is because we’re all living longer. Even though death is a natural part of life, many of us don’t experience the loss of someone close to us until later on in our lives. Illnesses and diseases that would claim the lives of our ancestors are no longer a threat, and so we are not as close to death as they were; hence it’s a fear of the unknown.
Another reason is that it is seen as a taboo subject; people think they might jinx themselves for bringing it up. Trust us, you won’t!
Dying Matters Awareness Week
The Dying Matters Coalition aims to raise awareness of the importance of talking more openly to friends and family about dying, death and bereavement. Their annual awareness week runs from 13-19 May 2019 and the theme is ‘Are We Ready?’ [https://www.dyingmatters.org/]
They’ve put together some quite astonishing facts, which show how ready we really are:
- Just 35% of adults said they had made a will
- Just 30% had let someone know their funeral wishes
- Just 7% had written down wishes or preferences about the care they would want if they couldn’t make decisions
- Just 25% had asked a family member about their end of life wishes
- Just 33% had registered to be an organ donor
Why is it important to talk about death?
These figures speak for themselves and highlight just how much we need to start talking about death – for everyone’s benefit. Here are four more good reasons to start a conversation:
- A ‘good death’: Talking about dying and your wishes makes it more likely that you – or your loved one – will die as you wanted to (for example, at home) because plans can be made in advance. This will bring comfort to those left behind, knowing the deceased had a ‘good death’ and that it was as they wanted.
- The grieving process: Once we start being more open about death, we can help others through the grieving process by having a conversation with them.
- A time to reflect: By choosing to talk about death, it can help us to reflect on our own life and goals we still wish to fulfil. From here, we might want to create a bucket list, or start to make plans for our own funeral. It’s not as morbid as it seems; we plan for every other stage of life!
- Reduce stress: As we spoke about in last month’s blog, talking can greatly reduce stress and avoid family disputes when someone passes away. Have the conversations with your loved ones early on, such as the type of funeral you want and whether you want to be buried or cremated.
How can we talk more about death and dying?
There are so many books and resources out there that can be a good starting point, as well as some brilliant TED talks that really get you thinking about death as a natural process.
Death cafes are a way to get out and talk to others about it. They allow people to meet up in a relaxed setting and talk over tea and cake, share their thoughts and learn about other people’s experiences. They’re all over the country. Take a look at:
There has also recently been a ‘Departure Lounge’ set up in Lewisham shopping centre to get people talking about death. It’s done up just like an airport lounge and features a pile of suitcases with messages and questions about the final journey we all face. More will be rolling out across the country this summer.
And of course, we are here for you too. We’re committed to the continued provision of a caring, sympathetic and sensitive service to the bereaved and their loved ones for many years to come.
Finally, for all you Harry Potter fans out there – a few words from the mighty Albus Dumbledore: “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” So start a conversation today and let’s get talking about death.