Death is a complex topic for many people to think about. There are many reasons for this: fear, confusion, discomfort, cultural, religious, and social beliefs, what they’ve been taught or not taught, about death, the experiences they have had. But what if we want to talk to those we love about our final wishes or theirs.
What if we want to create a will or are wondering if they have? What if we are scared of death ourselves and want to share our thoughts, fears and hopes with someone we love? In those cases, how do we talk to those we love about death when they are in denial?
We currently live in a society that denies death, meaning we do not like to think about, talk about or acknowledge death and dying in any significant way. We are happy to pay others to distance ourselves from dead bodies and the acts of caring for the dead, but some discussions, although difficult, are essential, even necessary, to have and cannot be sourced out to strangers.
Often broaching the topic of death causes anxiety and stress for the person trying to have the conversation and the people they are trying to reach out to. When conversations turn to the subject of death, people abruptly put an end to the conversation or dismiss it as a topic for another time. And timing makes all the difference.
When talking to someone you know is uncomfortable with conversations about death, take it slow. Don’t push someone to talk if it is clear they do not want to. This could harm the relationship you have with this person and put an end to future conversations. If you need help knowing how to talk to someone who is grieving, check out our blog here.
Make sure they can leave if they need to. Do not try to shock or scare them. You may want to have many small conversations instead of one big stressful forced one. Short conversations over time allow people to think between conversations and provide time for self-reflection. This could lead to less stressful discussions in the future and enable people to relax and become less defensive.
It can also help bring up death in a way where it does not relate to them. For example, start by telling them about a book you are reading, a film you watched, or something you read on the Internet that is about death. Start by sharing your thoughts and concerns and questions, and gently ask them theirs. It may be easier than diving straight into a conversation about their own death. And these conversations can be beneficial in the beginning to understand how they feel and why.
It is also best to admit it is about you. Even if it is also about them, you may be the one that wants or needs to have the conversation. This honesty can go a long way in building the trust necessary to have these difficult conversations. Reflect beforehand on why you want to talk to this particular person. Are you scared you will not be able to fulfil their final wishes? Are you worried about the financial burden of a funeral? Do you want to discuss your views on the afterlife? Or maybe you fear dying without leaving them the knowledge of what you want and expect?
Ensure you are clear about your thoughts, fears, and intentions before trying to share them. Write them down if this makes it more accessible. If this conversation is challenging, you may want to write a letter or email to loved ones explaining how you feel and why, including your wishes for the end of your life and asking them questions about theirs.
Death is part of living. As humans, we know death is inevitable. By having small conversations about death regularly, we create a space that permits us to be honest and admit we may not have all the answers. By talking, we take some of the mystery away and, therefore, some of the fear. To be comfortable talking about death, we need to normalize conversations about death, which can happen by taking small, supportive steps with those we love.
Eirene is here to support you in any way we can, even before death has occurred. Visit www.Eirene.ca to learn more about our offerings and read our blog, which includes information about pre-planning and before-death conversations.