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Starting a conversation about death and dying

Holding hands while talking about death and dying

People are beginning to realise that talking about death is important. It can ensure you and your loved ones spend your final days in peace, have the funeral you want, and don’t leave your family with financial worries. But starting a conversation about death and dying isn’t always simple.

Friends and relatives can be defensive, or brush it aside when you try to bring it up. They may be afraid of talking about such frightening topics, or find thinking about losing loved ones too painful. This can make it challenging to have a meaningful discussion about what they want and how they feel.

So how can you break the taboo and get the conversation started? Depending on your loved one’s personality and personal experience with death, it might be quite a challenge. Here are some tips to get them to open up:

  • Wait for death or funerals to come up in conversation. If there is a funeral on television, or an acquaintance has lost a loved one, this might be an opportunity to begin talking. Asking simple questions like, “What would you do in that situation?” might encourage them to open up.
  • Choose a time when they aren’t stressed or upset. Catching them in the right frame of mind can be important. Bringing up serious topics when they are already in a negative mood may not be well-received.
  • Consider tackling the subject head-on. If you find that opportunities to talk about death rarely happen, you might want to bring it up yourself. Try beginning with something like “I know this isn’t a nice conversation, but I really want to ask…”
  • Make sure they know it is important. If you can tell they want to shut down the conversation, explain to them why you need to know. Tell them it will give you peace of mind and maybe help them too.
  • But back off if they seem defensive. Don’t push them to talk if they really don’t want to. This can be frustrating, but sometimes a gradual approach is better. Let them end the conversation and try again another day.
  • Listen to them. If they do start talking, don’t be too eager to get answers to your questions immediately. Let them talk about what concerns them first and be attentive to what they are saying.
  • Offer them reassurance and comfort. Sometimes when the topic of death comes up unexpectedly, it can make people worry that something is wrong, that you are seriously ill or expecting to die soon. Reassure them that this is not the case and tell them that you care about them.

Opening up and sharing your thoughts about death and dying can be difficult. If you need support and advice on talking about end of life issues, visit the Dying Matters website to access a wealth of helpful resources.