Death is an inevitable certainty in life. While you don’t want to dwell on the end of life, you shouldn’t ignore the idea, either. When death appears on the horizon for yourself or a loved one, you don’t want to avoid discussion. Talking about death is an important and vital process both emotionally and spiritually.
The Cause of Hesitation Towards Discussing Death
Discussing death certainly isn’t a pleasant experience. Many people would rather ignore the subject entirely. There are a variety of reasons people wish to avoid conversations about mortality.
When people learn about their own imminent death, the news is almost always an understandable shock. Accepting this new reality isn’t an easy or quick process. People often feel as though talking about death makes the news more “real.” Ignoring the subject can be a conscious or unconscious attempt to make their feelings of fear go away.
Superstition is another factor. Knowing death is near can make death-related conversations feel like a way to tempt fate. While thinking positive can certainly influence the outcome of a situation, avoiding a conversation about death will almost always only make matters worse.
Finally, people avoid talking about death with others because they simply don’t know the proper approach. They’re unsure how to say goodbye to someone who is dying. When you know death is near for a spouse, parent or other loved, approaching the subject can feel awkward and uncomfortable. How do you discuss a person’s death without scaring them or appearing insensitive? When is a good time to introduce the subject?
How to Talk about Death with a Loved One
Whether due to age or illness, many people have some knowledge of their upcoming death. This can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the dying person has time to organize their life. They can settle matters related to their finances, funeral and other wishes. But on the other hand, the dying individual also has time to think about the end of their life. Unfortunately, this can lead to feelings of anxiousness, fear, anger and more.
If you need to talk to a loved one who is likely to pass away soon, there are a few guidelines you’ll want to follow. First, the time and setting of the conversation need to be carefully considered. Pick a setting where the dying individual feels comfortable, such as their home. You probably want to avoid a public place because the conversation will probably be pretty emotional.
Also, choose an appropriate time of day. If the individual is weakened due to age or illness, choose a time of day when they are typically most energetic and alert. Make sure the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed. If you have a large family, choose one or two members to discuss the issue. A large gathering could create a less personable environment.
Prepare beforehand to ensure the conversation can occur without interruption. Arrange for babysitting or other activities to keep children away and occupied. Turn off the TV, radio and any other potential distractions. Also, bring along a pen and paper. The dying person will probably have very specific wishes, and you don’t want to have to revisit the conversation later because you forgot details.
Reassure the dying person that the conversation will be private. Encourage them to open up and be honest about what they’re feeling. Also, be prepared to listen. The dying individual might have been waiting for an opportunity to talk to their family about the future.
What Specifics Need to Be Decided
Preparing for death can be divided into two distinct categories. First, there’s the spiritual and emotional. What does the person need to feel comfortable and at peace? If the person is religious, they may want to talk with their pastor, rabbi or another spiritual leader.
During this time, many people will struggle with a meaning of life. While there are certainly no easy answers, you do want to be prepared for existential questions. Ask the person how they feel about the life they lived. Do they have any philosophies they’d like to share? Do any quotes or stories particularly resonate with them?
Aside from spiritual/emotional issues, there will be practical matters, too. The dying person will need to address issues related to property and finances. If they don’t have a will, one should be created. In some cases, transferring property is simple and straight-forward. But in other cases, inheritance can be more contentious. The best way to ensure matters are handled properly is through detailed legal documents.
The person’s funeral wishes also need to be discussed. Do they have a plan in place? If they wish to be buried, do they have a funeral plot picked out? If they want to be cremated, do they have any wishes about where they want their ashes spread?
You’ll also need to discuss issues related to medical care. If they become unable to speak or care for themselves, what are their wishes regarding the end of their life? These concerns should be expressed in a living will, which is a legal document related to how and when they want medical care to continue or cease.
Is a “Bucket List” a Good Idea?
A bucket list is a popular concept where individuals attempt to complete a variety of fun and exciting life events before they “kick the bucket.” The idea is featured in movies and TV shows, but do people actually complete bucket lists in real life?
Well, there’s really no right answer. If someone is healthy and has the resources, there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t attempt to live life to the fullest before they pass on. Traveling to new or favorite places can certainly lift one’s spirits in what is normally a dark time. But don’t force a dying individual to make any plans they’re not interested in. Many people prefer peace, quiet and routine when the end is near.
If appropriate, family members might want to stop by to say their goodbyes. A sense of closure can help both the dying and those remaining adjust to the passing. Instead of new experiences, many people simply want to spend time with their loved ones.
How to Provide Comfort
Death can be a hard subject to talk about because many people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. After all, what if you frighten or insult the dying person? Their last memory of you could be sullied. Fortunately, there are a few guidelines to follow which can help provide comfort.
Be honest. Nobody wants to be told everyone is alright or will work out fine when it clearly won’t. Even if the truth is hard, people almost always appreciate hearing it. However, keep in mind that doctors and other medical professionals are the ones who are trained to deliver bad medical news. Avoid breaking a diagnosis to someone unless you’re qualified to do so.
Also, give the other person space to explore their thoughts. For instance, if you’re in the middle of discussing a will but the person decides they want to talk about the meaning of life, let them express their ideas. At the same time, you want to avoid letting the conversation become off-track as a way to avoid difficult subjects.
Not sure which of the following is the best opening for a difficult conversation? Use both leading and indirect questions as appropriate. Leading questions are well-suited for practical matters such as “What sort of music would like to play at your funeral?” and “What would you like to happen with your belongings?”
Indirect questions create an opportunity for the individual to express their thoughts. Examples include “Is there anything bothering you which you’d like to talk about?” and “Do you have any stories from your life which you’d like to share?”
If you or someone you know is dying, some of the conversations you have are going to be sad and uncomfortable. But the guidelines above can make those conversations much easier to have. Remember to always remain honest and show a willingness to listen.
Proper planning is an effective way to make the process of dying less hectic and stressful. When the wishes and needs of the dying person feel understood, they’re likely to feel more at peace with the process.
It often helps to think of death as a journey. Make sure everything is in order as much as possible before departure. While death is certainly a sad event, it’s also an opportunity to express love and gratitude towards the people closest to you. Talking about death can actually be a hidden blessing.