Death and dying. And talking about it with the ones we love

It’s Dying Matters Awareness Week. And this year, it’s all about the conversation. And how talking with our loved ones about death and dying matters to them and us.

Death.

Dying.

Words that don’t lend themselves to carefree conversation.

Words and concepts we tend to avoid because it isn’t easy to consider the ‘no-more’ of someone we love. When there are so many no-mores to consider. Too many no-mores to count.

And it’s scary.

Death – the unknowable is uncomfortable.

Is dying painful?

What would I even say?

I don’t want to upset them…

And it’s reasons like these that stop us from having the conversations that can give our loved ones and us such peace and comfort.

So, in support of the conversation. Let’s take a look at why talking about death matters. What things we might want to cover. And how we can go about it…

Why talk about death and dying?

As uncomfortable as the conversations are, by having them we set ourselves up best for when they die, and all the emotional and practical things arise.

We get the chance to comfort one another. Say things we might later wish we’d said. Give them the opportunity to say stuff, too. And get things off our chests.

We can also find out about their wishes. Where they might want to die. The care they’d like to receive. And what they want for a funeral.

Knowing these things means, when the time comes to make decisions, we’re guided by them all the way. We don’t need to struggle and worry over doing what’s best for them. We’re already doing it. They’ve told us.

What to talk about…

There’s going to be lots of things we might want to cover. And some of the suggested list below are whole conversations in themselves. 

So, we should break it down into manageable pieces. And not succumb to the feeling that we must cover it all at once.

Our topics might include:

  • Their account details, like bank, phone, internet, subscriptions…
  • Where they keep the spare key, their birth certificate, passport…
  • Who will take care of the pets.
  • Arranging an Executor and a Power of Attorney.
  • The type of care they’d like and where they’d like to die.
  • Their idea of a funeral and the things they’d like to include.
  • How they’d like to be remembered.
  • Any stories and memories they have to share.

How to hold the conversation…

Like all the big topics life makes us cover. There are ways we can make talking about death much easier on us and them.

We can: 

Choose a time when we are calm.

We can’t rush this conversation. And it’s going to be hard enough without already being stressed. 

Use opportunities as they arise.

We might already be talking about retirement plans. Or a celebrity might’ve just died. Or something.

Be some place comfortable and relaxing.

Some place where conversation flows. Albeit the sofa, a pub, over dinner, on a walk…

Start with questions.

Asking things that start like ‘Have you ever wondered about…’ and ‘Do you think…’ opens up a conversation a bit more naturally than saying a statement. And asking what’s important to them can really help them focus on their wishes.

Say the obvious.

Things like ‘this is hard to talk about’ and ‘we haven’t talked about this before, so…’ can help start what we need to say flowing.

Read the room.

If they start getting uncomfortable, stop. Don’t press the topic. Change the subject.

Listen.

With good ears. Give them our undivided attention.

Be patient and encouraging.

It can be hard to find the point of what we’re saying when we’re nervous and have a lot running through our minds. So, tell them to take their time. There’s no rush. And we should take our time, too.

Not judge.

This is, after all, their life and death. And this conversation is a chance for them to unload their thoughts.

Not worry about saying the wrong thing.

There’s no script for us to follow. No right words to use. It’s more important that we’re there and honest rather than the actual words we say. And if in doubt, say nothing.

Keep it true to the love we share.

Be open to laugh and cry. To sit in silence and hold hands. To simple be with the person we love. 

Break it down into manageable pieces.

Like we discovered earlier, there’s just too much to cover in one sitting. So, we should talk about the pets one day. Touch on the funeral, another. And so forth. Covering what we can, as and when we can.

Run what we want to say by someone else.

There’s no harm in speaking with our partner or a friend or someone and saying, ‘I’m thinking about talking about this … what do you think?’ Another viewpoint always gives us another way of seeing something that might help guide us through.

Look after ourselves.

And this is important. Talking about death is hard. And we need to make sure that we take some time for ourselves afterwards. It’ll help us support our loved one better.

Now, to get talking…

The benefits of talking about death and dying with a loved one outweigh the discomfort of doing it.

By talking about their funeral. We get an idea of their wishes for their farewell of this life. 

By talking about their account details. We are able to close their accounts with a lot less hassle than we might otherwise.

By talking about where they hide the keys. We get practical knowledge of where things are that’ll help us when we need them most.

By holding these conversations with them. We get to say things we might wish we’d said. And they get the chance to do the same.

Memories can be shared.

Laughter can be had.

Love can be felt.

And when the time comes and they die. And it’s time for us to make decisions and close down their life. We can face the practical things knowing we have their guidance. Their input. Making it all that bit easier. Allowing us to more freely mourn our loss.

For more information on Dying Matters Awareness Week, please visit hospiceUK.


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