When’s a good time for talking about death?

Pic: courtesy of Antonia Rolls

Pic: courtesy of Antonia Rolls

When is a good time for taking about death? We think any time at all. We advocate openness, tackling the taboo. We believe it’s good to talk to children about death and dying to make it a normal part of life, not something mysterious and scary. We think it’s good to check in from time with friends, family, partner on thoughts.

This week we’ve invited Elaine Bramhall her thoughts the subject:

“Talking about death can be a tough one. It is something that may seem so hard, to even contemplate, never mind talking about, for many of us. The biggest of life’s transitions is birth, our entry into the world, and death, our departure. We excitedly prepare and celebrate the pending birth of a newcomer (baby) to our lives and yet, there seems much more to plan and celebrate as we prepare for the end of our life. It seems that the earlier we are able to think and talk about this ‘guaranteed’ future life event the easier it can be for us and also, for those close to us.

  1. Make talking about death a ‘normal’ conversation

Because of my work, as a family, we have had some very unusual discussions over the years. Death and preparing for death is a common talking point for us. Being involved in birth and death discussions over the dinner table with my husband and children has been insightful, humorous, emotional and sometimes quite thought provoking. My family is complex and I could not have guessed some of this things that have come up as important.

  1. Use triggers in the media, world events, TV soaps, drama to voice your thoughts.

Conversations can begin because we see something in a TV soap, think about Hayley in Coronation Street, world events, the earthquake in Nepal, the latest news of someone making the journey to ‘Dignitas’ in Switzerland. For those of us who are busy ‘living’ having topical discussions can provide easier ways to talk about what is important for our death, “If that happened to me when I was on holiday, I would want……, if I were in that sort of position I would/ would not…..”

  1. Keep talking about death as you move through different life events and stages.

What is important when you are single or a couple may change significantly once you become a parent or retire for example.

Talking about dying and what is important to each of us changes, as our lives change, so conversations about our death seem to be an important part of living to me. Most of us plan just about everything in our lives today, managing uncertainly is uncomfortable and can be distressing. We can plan for death by sharing small important wishes, as well as significant things we might put in a ‘Will’ or funeral plan.

  1. Talking about dying when a life threatening diagnosis is made.

Facing the news of significant ill health can be very frightening leaving feelings of being out of control and fearful of the future unknowns. Talking about ‘what if’s’ and voicing fears, hopes and wishes can re-establish a sense of control and bring areas of certainty, however small, into view once more.

  1. Talking about dying when death is on a near horizon.

For those who are living with life ending illness talking about dying can be harder, or sometimes easier, as it has more tangible reality. Removing uncertainty about the end of our life and what will happen after death can be enormously liberating, reducing anxiety and creating freedom to ‘live’. There is no ‘right’ way to talk about death; it’s as individual as we are.”

Thanks to Elaine for these 5 tips for talking about death. Elaine works with Macmillan Cancer Care to provide support and specialist advice around developing education and training resources like the ‘Advance Care Planning Toolkit’ on Macmillan LearnZone which includes films, facts and guidance to support staff and develop confidence in the ‘conversations’ with people approaching the end of their life. She has over 20 years experience in private practice, consultancy, and the NHS and works in collaboration with clients to identify specific areas of problematic or difficult communication. 

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