Discussing Death

Discussing Death

Oct 28, 2023

Breaking the Taboo with Loved Ones


Death, that inevitable part of life, is a subject that often shrouds itself in discomfort and silence. In the modern Western world, a culture that celebrates vitality and growth, discussing the end of the journey can feel like an intrusion. Yet, it is precisely this avoidance that often leaves us unprepared and uncertain when the time comes to face it.

In this post, we will delve into the art of breaking the taboo surrounding death and engaging in candid conversations with our loved ones about end-of-life plans. By doing so, we embark on a journey of preparation, understanding, and, ultimately, a deeper connection with those we hold dear.

Embracing the Uncomfortable

As I sit here, pen poised over paper, I am acutely aware of the discomfort that surrounds this topic. It is a discomfort we all share to some degree. We shy away from the subject, hoping that by ignoring it, we can somehow keep it at bay. Yet, in this evasion, we deny ourselves an opportunity for growth and connection.

In my own story, I was grateful for the wisdom and insight of my father who told me he had all the necessary papers stored in an old shoe box. At the time of his death, this allowed me space to focus on the bureaucracy and grief without stress. I was so moved by his thoughtfulness I have since prepared my own box (safe) which has not only official papers but instructions, letters of love, photos, and a written eulogy.

Embracing the uncomfortable reality of death is the first step toward a more profound understanding of life. It allows us to confront our fears, reevaluate our priorities, and ultimately, cherish the moments that truly matter.

The Power of Introspection

In these quiet moments of introspection, we find the fertile ground for discussions about the end of life. It is in these moments that we confront our own mortality, grapple with our beliefs, and ponder the legacy we wish to leave behind. By turning inward, we lay the foundation for honest and meaningful conversations with our loved ones. It is a gift we give not only to ourselves but to those who will one day carry on our memory.

When you have confidently sifted and sorted through your own thoughts, beliefs, and paperwork you have a basis of knowledge to share with others. This in itself can be a way of starting a conversation about death.

Choosing the Right Moment

Timing is everything, they say, and this holds particularly true when broaching the subject of death. Finding the right moment requires a delicate balance of sensitivity and consideration. It is not a conversation to be rushed, nor is it one to be sprung upon unsuspecting ears. Yet at the same time, it is important to be aware that there is never a perfect time to bring up a taboo subject.

Often those we love are very rarely in the same room or place at the same time which means you will need to be prepared to have this conversation more than once. If possible, seek a tranquil setting, free from distractions, where hearts and minds can open freely. It is in this space that the seeds of understanding can take root.

Framing the Conversation

Approaching the topic of death requires a gentle touch and a compassionate heart. Start by acknowledging the sensitivity of the subject and expressing your genuine concern for their well-being. Invite them into the conversation with open-ended questions, allowing them the space to share their thoughts and fears. Remember, it is not about having all the answers, but about creating a safe space for them to express themselves.

Below are a few examples of starting a conversation that may allow you to go deeper. Feel free to shape and use those that you feel will work in your circumstances.

1. What are your thoughts on the concept of mortality and how it shapes our perspective on life?

2. Have you ever considered what kind of legacy you would like to leave behind for future generations?

3. How do you envision your later stages of life, and are there specific preferences you have in mind?

4. Can you share a memory or experience that has influenced your beliefs about life and death?

5. What aspects of end-of-life planning do you find most important for ensuring peace of mind?

6. How do you think discussions about death can bring us closer to our loved ones?

7. Are there cultural or spiritual beliefs that influence your perspective on what comes after life?

8. In your opinion, what role do our relationships with others play in how we approach the subject of death?

9. How do you think openly discussing death can impact our overall well-being and sense of closure?

10. Have there been any books, movies, or conversations that have shaped your views on mortality?

Sharing Your Own Wishes

In the midst of these discussions, it is crucial to remember that your voice matters too. Your desires, hopes, and preferences for your own end-of-life journey are equally important. By articulating them clearly, you provide your loved ones with invaluable guidance and comfort. It is a gift of certainty in a time marked by uncertainty.

When you share your thoughts and wishes you also pass on the ability for others to think deeply about their own desires. Often we are surprised by other people's ideas after all we are all unique and as the subject has many facets there are a whole lot of possibilities.

Listening with Empathy

When discussing matters as profound as life's end, the art of listening holds immeasurable power. As the conversation unfolds, remember that your role is not only to speak but to be present in every sense of the word.

Listening with empathy transcends the mere act of hearing words. It is about attuning your heart to the cadence of their emotions, without the weight of judgment or the rush to provide solutions. It is in this silent embrace that your loved ones find solace, a sanctuary for their deepest thoughts.

Allow the conversation to ebb and flow, giving space for the raw and unfiltered expressions of their concerns, fears, and hopes. Each word carries a piece of their soul, and it is through your attentive ear that they find validation and understanding.

In these moments, you offer them a profound gift - the assurance that their feelings are not only heard but truly listened to. You honor their vulnerability with the respect it deserves, acknowledging the weightiness of the subject at hand.

As you listen, take note not only of the words spoken, but also the nuances of their body language, the pauses, and the unspoken truths that linger in the air. These subtleties often reveal volumes, providing you with a deeper insight into their thoughts and emotions.

When you do respond, do so with gentleness and compassion. Offer reassurance that their feelings are valid and that you are here to support them, every step of the way. Sometimes, silence itself can be the most powerful response, a gesture that communicates a shared sense of contemplation and understanding.

Your presence in this conversation is the most precious instrument. It is the melody of your empathy that will resonate long after the words have faded, leaving an indelible mark of comfort and connection.

Navigating Emotional Reactions

Emotions, like turbulent waves, may surge and crash in the midst of these conversations. Fear, sadness, and even anger may emerge, each a testament to the profound love and care that binds you. It is in these moments of intensity that a steady hand and a compassionate heart are most needed.

If tempers flare and emotions escalate, remember that it is okay to hit the pause button. Acknowledge the intensity of the emotions and express your commitment to continuing the conversation when everyone is in a calmer state of mind.

Creating a safe space means allowing room for all feelings, even those that may be uncomfortable. Offer reassurance that each emotion is valid and deserving of acknowledgment. This is not a sign of failure, but rather a testament to the gravity of the subject matter.

Take a step back, allowing a moment of respite for all involved. Encourage self-reflection and an opportunity to gather thoughts. Sometimes, distance can provide the clarity needed to re-engage in a more constructive manner.

When you do return to the conversation, do so with an open heart and a willingness to understand. Validate the emotions expressed, and express gratitude for the courage it takes to share them. Conversions about death are to be embarked upon together, and each step, no matter how challenging, brings you closer to a place of deeper connection and understanding.

By navigating these emotional reactions with grace and compassion, you not only honor the depth of your bond but also pave the way for a more resilient and enriched relationship.

Practical Steps and Resources

With the foundation of the conversation laid, it is time to move towards practical preparations. Provide your loved ones with information on essential documents, such as wills, advanced directives, and powers of attorney. Encourage them to seek professional advice and support in these matters.

By offering these resources, you empower them to navigate the complexities of end-of-life planning with confidence. (See the Further Reading section below).

Honoring Choices and Providing Support

In the days, months, and years that follow, it is crucial to honor the choices made during these conversations. Respect wishes made and offer your unwavering support. Walk alongside them in this journey, providing comfort and reassurance. By doing so, you not only demonstrate your love but also reaffirm the profound connection that exists between you.

In breaking the taboo surrounding death, we find profound significance in our own lives. We offer our loved ones the gift of preparedness, understanding, and a deeper connection. By embracing the uncomfortable, engaging in introspection, and approaching the topic with empathy and grace, we create a space where love and understanding can flourish. And in doing so, we honor not only our own journey but the journeys of those we hold dear. So let us take that first step, pen poised over paper, and start a conversation that will resonate through the ages.