Death and dying is one of very few conversational taboos left in Australia. As we get closer to it, it can seem all the more daunting to talk about with others. Here are some helpful tips to guide your conversations about death and dying, whether it is talking about your own death or someone else’s.
Timing can be everything when it comes to loss. If you’re talking with someone who has experienced the death of a loved one directly, be aware that grief is not a linear process, and some people may not want to openly share their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes just letting someone know you are there for them is enough. If someone is inclined to want to talk, then it’s often more important to listen to them rather than speak so they can lessen the load they are feeling by sharing it with you. Be mindful that everyone grieves differently.
Sometimes experiencing the death of a loved one, or hearing about the passing of an acquaintance, can make you think about your own mortality and provide a catalyst for having a conversation about your own wishes as well as those of friends and family.
However, while you may be ready to talk about your own plans for a send-off, others close to you might not want to face it. But if talking about it and planning ahead is important to you then communicate this and suggest talking about it in a few weeks time, or next time you catch up, and gently broach the subject again then.
Context and setting are vital in any situation, and especially with emotionally charged topics such as death and dying. This can be even more sensitive when you take into consideration someone’s cultural or religious beliefs, as many approach this area in vastly different ways.
Be aware of where you are, who you are talking to and their potential frame of mind around the topic of death. Is it important to not have people around so as not to invite unwanted attention? Or do you need to ensure all the right people are there so as to only have the conversation once? Each situation and person are different. Giving consideration to the setting is a great step towards providing the right support.
When you know you are going to be talking to someone who is grieving there’s nothing wrong with rehearsing what you want to say, or not say. Gently acknowledge their loss, offer support if you can and if you are close to the person, a hug or shoulder to cry on is sometimes more important than any words.
Good listening is difficult. In particular, hearing about someone’s loss and pain can be confronting and uncomfortable but being strong for someone else is character-building and important. Showing and feeling empathy can mean that listening to another’s pain can make you feel like it’s your pain. Being a support for someone who is struggling with loss is a special responsibility and really listening is incredibly important to do in case they need more support than you can offer.
When listening, be extra mindful of your words and responses. Try not to “me too” someone who is talking about their grief with your own experiences. It’s a difficult conversation for anyone, and sometimes listening is enough to know they are being heard and they are not alone.
Topics about death can range from easier areas like what funeral songs to play, through to aspects that are affected by a person’s beliefs and wishes. There are the physical “what would you like to happen to your body?” to the ephemeral “how would you like to be remembered”? When a person is comfortable talking about one aspect of their passing, seize that opportunity to dig a little bit deeper. It may highlight just how little they have shared about their own end of life preferences. There are some Australian-focussed resources available at Dying to Talk that range from the serious to the fun that may assist you.
There are some Australian-focussed resources available at Dying to Talk that range from the serious to the fun that may assist you.
There is a lot to consider when speaking to someone about death and preparing a funeral is one of them. This can be an emotional time. Make sure you speak to a number of funeral providers to find one that suits you, and if you need us, we are available 24/7. Talk to our team at H.Parsons via our contact form, calling (02) 4228 9622 or visiting us at one of our locations.