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Why we prefer not to talk about death

Dealing with death Go Direct Cremations

Death matters and the taboos surrounding it, then why we prefer not to talk about death?
People are reluctant to talk about dying for many reasons. The more obvious one is that you would rather not think about dying yourself. Why would you? When you are young and full of health, hope, life and strength, dying is the last thing you think about. And quite naturally so.

Those who are older and have taken some of the knocks on their journey through life may find it easier but, there remains the relationship with the dying or grieving person. You would not want to appear too familiar yet, they are probably confused at best, desperate at worst and have a real need to be with someone who cares.

In the case of a parent, child or sibling, this opens up a different scenario and many factors come into play.

Talking about death and dying
It is hard to talk about dying. We are embarrassed to connect with someone who is dying or someone who is grieving. We become awkward. But when we don’t talk about what matters it can increase feelings of isolation, loneliness and distress. Below, we offer suggestions how to say goodbye; the importance of good listening skills; and what the dying may experience as death approaches. There are also ways to offer spiritual support.

Fear of talking
It’s not only relatives and friends who might find it difficult to talk about what’s happening. If a serious diagnosis has been made, the patient may find it hard to express their feelings or what they would like to happen to them after death.

Fear of saying the wrong thing and hurting feelings
Fear of death
Refusal to face the truth
Pretending everything’s alright with relatives, doctors and carers, when it’s not
Fear of what other relatives might say
Belief that professionals know best, so nothing is addressed
Guilt or shame about past events or things that were said in haste or moments of anger
Denial – will not face the inevitable
Why those who are dying find it difficult to talk
The ability or willingness of someone who is dying to talk openly about what they are going through may be affected by many things.

They may be receiving larger than normal doses of drugs for pain control. But they do have ‘soul needs’ so need to feel heard, cared-for, connected and emotionally safe.

Their declining mental powers should be taken into consideration. They may only be able to speak slowly and may be incoherent. Encouragement and tact are essential.

Related factors:

Not wishing to be a burden to anyone
Lack of privacy, particularly in hospital wards
Inner conflict over unfinished business
Dysfunctional family
Secrets that have never been shared
Denial – they cannot face the truth
Fear of upsetting relatives
Never been a talker
Taking a non relative into their confidence
Never pressurise anyone into talking if they don’t want to but ensure they know you are willing to listen when they are ready.

Opening a conversation
These suggestions are for relatives, friends and carers.

Saying goodbye
Some are fortunate in being able to being at peace with themselves and family members. But that’s not always the case. Many are frightened about their passing. They may have difficulty expressing what they need because they are:

Afraid to die
Being a burden to their friends, family or society
Angry at being cheated of life
Lonely and desperate for someone to ask how they truly feel
Angry with God
Hoping for a miracle cure
Aware they have wasted their life and missed opportunities
In such pain they are desperate to die
Wishing to make contact with ex-partners or estranged family or friends.
Desirous to confess to past events and to ask for forgiveness. This can be painful and upsetting, but it can also be a powerful release
The dying may quite understandably be angry and take this out on the medical and nursing staff who are doing their best and the world at large. They may be missing those who, for whatever reason are unable to come

lf you feel unable to deal with the situation, talk to the nursing staff. They are professionals and have to deal with this daily. The person may not be able to tell you exactly how they feel but they may be willing to talk to a nurse, member of their clergy, volunteer visitor, or special friend.

How to open up a difficult conversation
A dying person might sometimes help by throwing out ‘tester questions’ to check if you are willing to engage with them. They might, for example, ask you, ‘What do you think happens to you after you die?’ They might ask if you think there is life after death. They might ask, ‘Do you think God really exists?’

How to listen well
The most important thing is to listen. Here are a couple of key tips:

Be respectful: none of us truly knows what is going to happen after death, whatever our religious or spiritual beliefs. So it’s important not to force our viewpoint onto the person.
Be quiet! Don’t feel you have to talk all the time. Just being there quietly at the bedside instils calm, and peace
Spiritual support
Spiritual care at the end of life is vital. Today, we live in an increasingly secular world, except at significant moments such as birth and christening a newborn baby, marriage and death. The wishes of the individual must be respected.

The hospital chaplain is there to provide help and support whether it’s for your dying relative or a need to talk about matters that are distressing you. They will gladly provide pastoral support for the dying person. Chaplains will arrange for prayers to be said, and last rites to be administered for Christians. They will also arrange for other faith clergy, priests or rabbis to visit the dying person.

There is no escaping the fact that death is a serious business. We hope these words will be of some help to you, should or whenever the need may arise.

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