In the UK, talking about death is often seen as morbid, painful or even “tempting fate”. But it needn’t be like that – and the vast majority of people report afterwards that they feel much better for having had these conversations.
At MDMD we believe the solution is to make conversations about death part of life, rather than waiting until illness or old age to talk to friends and family. Talk early, talk often, and keep things in context rather than off limits.
Starting any conversation about death
Death is so little talked about outside of times of crisis that it is difficult for those of us rushing around in our daily lives to appreciate it is part of human existence. One thing that bereaved friends and relatives frequently say is they wish they hadn’t taken the everyday things for granted whilst their loved one was alive and well.
Accepting our own mortality helps us make the most of our lives and find value in everyday gestures. This is the biggest reward of breaking the taboo.
Starting a conversation about death doesn’t need any special status or solemnity, although it is useful to make sure you’re both comfortable: make a cup of tea, or take a walk, or simply start a normal conversation.
Try to pick a time when there will be no interruptions, but don’t worry if that happens. This is not intended to be a one-off event but rather a way of making sure that, when either of you think about death in any context, you know it is safe and healthy to share these thoughts with the other person. Just start off with “You know, I’ve been thinking…” and then say what you want to say.
Starting a conversation about your own wishes or end-of-life choices
Having a more detailed conversation about your own wishes or end-of-life choices is much easier once comfortable conversations about death in general have been established. However, if you need to jump straight in, the following are useful “launch pads”:
responding to a recent news article or documentary on assisted dying
using a recently made Will, funeral arrangements or Advance Decision as a starting point (particularly if you’ve had an appointment with your solicitor, funeral director or GP that day)
Before starting the conversation, map out for yourself what you want to say. Consider whether you are actively requesting anything from the person, or simply seeking their emotional support.
During the conversation, make sure you leave room to listen so that it is a dual process. If the person you are talking to is reluctant to face mortality, say that you know you may have years left but that it will give you peace of mind to be able to talk with them now.
Their own wishes may be vastly different from yours. Politely but firmly explain that these are highly personal preferences: you respect that their choice would be right for them and hope they will respect that your choice is right for you.
The benefits of having a series of honest conversations
One of our younger MDMD members wants to share her own experiences in the hope of encouraging people to have more honest conversations.
In this video, she explains why a series of open conversations with her father has helped her come to terms with his death and build a better framework for her own life.
The Advance Decision form that Carrie mentions is available from Compassion In Dying, here.