Talking About Death - How To Get Started

Death and dying are topics that most of us would prefer not to talk about. This may be because they bring up negative emotions such as sadness or fear. Some people also find it difficult to talk about death, especially if it isn’t something that is socially acceptable to talk about openly in their society or culture. Most people simply don’t know where to start when beginning a conversation about death and dying. Even in 2023, death is a taboo topic in most families! 

In fact, having a chat about death doesn’t have to be morbid at all. Talking about death as a natural part of life can be healthy and empowering, and can even strengthen your relationships with your loved ones. Here are the key areas we have some guidance about   

  • What are your thoughts on death 

  • You can talk about death any time 

  • Be respectful of when/how people can talk 

  • Focus on what the person wants 

  • Be prepared to be emotional! 

  • Talking with children about death

  1. Reframe your perspective on death 

For most of us, death and dying are topics that we associate with sadness. In some cultures death is celebrated, either as a way to honour the life of the person who has passed on or as a rebirth or reincarnation. Examples of these are the Jazz Funerals of New Orleans where death is celebrated with music and dance on the streets, and the Ngaben ceremony of Bali where families gather to send their loved ones onwards to their next life, or back to nature. It can also be a time to remember and honour ancestors.  

  1. Find opportunities in everyday life 

If the subject of death does come up in everyday life, use it as an opportunity to spark a conversation. Sometimes people are more open to talking about subjects like death if it’s connected to a public event, like the death of a public figure.  

You could even start by saying something like “I would like my funeral to be full of colour and music” or “I would love to have white lilies at my funeral” and leave the conversation open for your friend or family member to express their opinion.  

  1. Give people space and time  

If the person you’re talking to is resistant to talking about death, or is not ready to talk about the subject, try to respect this. Some people take longer to warm up to difficult subjects, so while you may be ready to discuss death, they may not be, but when they are, be ready to listen to the other person and their feelings and thoughts on death. 

This could also be due to cultural or religious beliefs, so it’s always best to be mindful of these differences. Let others take their own time to become comfortable about talking about death.  

  1. Focus on the person who is dying 

Sometimes, it is the death or illness of a friend or family member that sparks a conversation about death. In this case, it’s important to keep the focus on the person who is dying. Respecting and holding space for their beliefs about death is the best way forward.  

  1. Be prepared for emotion 

Talking about death can bring up many different - and sometimes conflicting - emotions, both for you and for the person you are talking with. These emotions could range from sadness and worry to fear and anger. Don’t be afraid to cry.  

For some people in the late stages of terminal illness, death may even be something they are looking forward to. Don’t be surprised if this is the case. Everyone has different ideas of what death means to them, and all ideas are valid.  

  1. Find ways to talk to children about death 

Talking to children about the subject of death is very different from talking to adults about it. Children have very different ways of expressing strong emotions related to grief and death. You will also need to keep in mind the age group of the child you are talking to, as very small children will not be able to understand more complex concepts that teenagers might be able to.  

Here’s a helpful guide on talking to children about death and grief.

We know it may be very difficult to talk about death and dying at first, but like anything else, it does become easier once you get started. Having open and honest conversations about death can help you understand the wishes of your loved ones better. These could include what kind of funeral they prefer, where they would like to be interred, and how they would like to be remembered.  

It’s also important to know what to do when someone dies.  Knowing the technical details, such as what documents you’ll need, can make a stressful time easier to cope with.  

Talking about your own death can even make you feel empowered to try exploring some of the options that The Farewell Guide offers on our website: 

You could plan your own funeral here

Understand the costs involved in a funeral