Death is a natural part of life, but it's a topic most of us prefer not to discuss. Still, normalizing these conversations can help us process our own relationship with death, empowering us to make peace with our mortality.
We're shedding light on the subject to help break the stigma about discussing death so you can have more open, honest conversations about your own end-of-life preferences and the wishes of loved ones. This can be particularly important for adult children with aging parents.
Read on to learn what the "death talk" is and three different approaches to help you start the conversation with your parents, family and loved ones.
What Is the "Death Talk"?
The "death talk" is a personal conversation that covers death, dying and end-of-life care so you can better understand a loved one's preferences and final wishes ahead of time. This all-encompassing discussion covers finances, medical care, religious and spiritual choices and final arrangements.
Before starting the conversation, it's helpful to do some homework on what questions to ask. Our guide, End-of-life Questions to Ask, offers an overview of what you'll need to know and can serve as an outline for your conversation.
3 Approaches to Starting the Conversation About Death
Everyone has a different way of talking about death. Some of us are direct and factual, and some use euphemisms like "going to a better place," while others fear it, preferring to avoid the topic altogether.
Choosing your strategy will depend on your parents' comfort level and personality. Here are three popular approaches to help you get started:
Direct conversations about death
If your parents tend to be matter-of-fact or get straight to the point in every discussion, having a direct conversation about death and dying could be the right approach.
You don't need to be blunt or harsh, but you should express your intentions honestly and openly. Let them know you want to start planning for the future and that you'd like to understand their preferences to honor their wishes. Emphasizing your objectives for the conversation will put your parents at ease and allow them to have a say in the planning before an urgent need arises.
Educational conversations about death
An educational approach to end-of-life discussions is helpful if your parents or loved ones fear death or avoid the topic altogether. This type of discussion should be factual and explain the benefits of planning before a time of need. Perhaps you have a real-life example of a friend or colleague currently dealing with their own parents' issues. That could be a way in. Often having the conversation in this objective, common sense kind of way helps individuals overcome their fears and other complex emotions.
Start by explaining to your parents that it's always a good idea to have a plan in place for any major life event, and understanding their preferences can ease the stress on the family and ensure their wishes are met.
Related reading: The Top 5 Benefits of Funeral Preplanning
Inquisitive conversations about death
When parents and others refuse to talk about death or dying altogether, it may stem from a fear of losing control. The inquisitive approach puts them in the driver's seat as you ask questions to get to the heart of the matter and their feelings on the topic, essentially allowing them to drive the conversation.
Use our free funeral planning checklist to ensure you cover everything you need to know about final arrangement preferences.
Remember, these are just three examples of how you might start the conversation. Once you begin, you might find that another path (or a blend of approaches) works best. Listen actively and be open to changing your strategy.
Are you preparing to start the "death talk" with your parents or family? Get additional tips on how to talk about end-of-life planning with loved ones.
At The Love Always Project, we know conversations about death and dying are challenging but incredibly important. We believe that by accepting, embracing and planning for our own mortality, we can find peace with death and ease the pain of loved ones. Access additional resources to help you prepare and plan final arrangements.