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Why Should We Talk about Death and Dying?

Laura Smith, our Bereavement & Counselling Co-ordinator, writes about the importance of being more open on the subject about death and dying, and what it means to be “in a good place to die”.

It is taken for granted that every woman who is expecting a baby will have a birth plan – a set of preferences of where and how she would like to have her baby, what pain relief she would like, whether to have a water birth etc. However, while we find it easy to talk about and plan for birth, we often find it difficult to discuss our thoughts and wishes around death and dying. Dying Matters Awareness Week, which this year runs from 2nd-6th May, aims to encourage everyone to talk about death, dying and bereavement so that we can all be “in a good place to die”. This means thinking about more than just our physical needs and where we wish to be when we die; it includes considering our emotional, financial and spiritual needs, as well as making sure we have the right care and specialist support around us when our lives come to an end.

It can feel like a difficult challenge to start to have a conversation about death and dying as there is still something of a taboo around these subjects, and it’s true that they are not the most cheerful topics. However, there is often a sense of relief once the conversation starts, and it can be easier than you think. Also, there is no need to feel the pressure to have one “big” conversation; often lots of smaller conversations over a period of time will be easier, and will allow initial thoughts and feelings to develop into clearer ideas and intentions.

When thinking about what areas to cover in a conversation, the following topics are probably the most important:

  • Planning where you would like to be cared for and how much medical intervention you would want, i.e. reflecting on quantity versus quality of life
  • Making a will
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Care for dependents, e.g. children or elderly parents
  • Thoughts on who can speak for you and manage your affairs if/when you become unable to do this for yourself

Whatever stage of life we are at, we can always gain something from talking about death and dying. A good way to start a conversation is with a question, e.g. “I wonder if you have ever thought about …” or by reflecting on the death of a celebrity or someone known to us. Significant life changes, such as retirement, moving house or becoming a grandparent can also be times for reflection, and can be good opportunities to start to talk.

If you would like more information, advice or suggestions for how to talk about death and dying, a good place to start is Dying Matters Awareness Week, Hospice UK, or contact Laura Smith, our Bereavement & Counselling Co-ordinator on lsmith@peacehospicecare.org.uk