Death is as common and as natural as birth but death discussion is always avoided till its usually too late. With death being a reality, the more we discuss it, the more we can understand it but also the connections we have with others and their thoughts and desires. Talking about death does not illustrate a morbid fascination but recognizes a reality that time is precious and we must enjoy the time we have with our loved ones. No next day is ever promised. Unfortunately, many fear this topic or wish to deny it.
The article, “If death happens to us all, we should probably talk more openly about grief” by Dinah Lewis Boucher discusses the impact of losing someone and the long mental process to learn to live without that person. Boucher states,
“Three years after my husband died, his toothbrush remained in our family’s toothbrush holder. It didn’t make any sense, of course. He didn’t need it. But there it stood, three toothbrushes altogether. Our daughter’s, mine and his. It was a visual representation of how I wished for it to be. But our family was down to two. People say time is a great healer, and the pain of grief changes — over time. But if we aren’t active in the process of grieving, some say it may not change so much. “
“If death happens to us all, we should probably talk more openly about grief”. Boucher, D. (2022). ABC News
To read the entire article, please click here
Whether we discuss death or not, it will come to our loved ones and eventually ourselves. The process will always be difficult since the lost of a loved one is so intense due to attachments and love. The brain does not respond well to such change. The neural networks need to realign to the new situation and past memories can haunt. The adjustment period is only adjustment. It is not a recovery but a realignment to new realities. Those who do their grief work and avoid complications within the process still remain sad but are able to move forward in a healthy way and find joy in the world despite the loss and the pain associated with it.
Hence, discussing death while others are alive is important to understanding the needs of our loved ones and their wishes. It allows one to express emotions now instead of when it is too late. It is recognizing that everyday is not guaranteed and that time goes by fast. It helps one also understand the inner thinking and wishes of the loved one and what the loved one would want for us if he/she passed away. Concretely sharing these moments instead of speculating what ifs after death can alleviate future suffering.
The phobia of death can paralyze an individual into a state of inaction during life. It can prevent a person from expressing love the day of instead of when its too late. It can make one unprepared and not ready for the loss of a loved one. It is hence important to embrace the reality of life which includes death and express fears or anxieties associated with it to others. One will discover it is not a morbid discussion but a a discussion that is very real and an opening to emotional connections that will not be there one day.
After acknowledging death with loved ones, one will understand spiritual and emotional sides of the loved one that one may not have known before. There may also exist a greater peace if something occurs knowing each other’s feelings and not being left to wonder what one would think or do after they passed away. When death is discussed, one discovers not only religious beliefs, but also how one would deal with particular situations when one is gone. One is hence better able to handle situations or execute legal decisions with more certainty and confidence instead of guesswork.
Trying to introduce this much needed conversation can at first be difficult and maybe even awkward. One does not merely begin the conversation with death itself but it is gradually implemented from such topics of legacy, the future, desires, or religious thoughts. The death of a celebrity can be an excellent introduction to the topic as well.
While death is naturally feared because of its unknown aspects, death discussion takes away the taboo element of it and helps individuals discuss and better understand implications of it. It allows one to also be better prepared for one’s own death from all financial and spiritual concerns. Many individuals today pre pay for funeral expenses, urns and cemetery plots. This is not pessimistic or morbid planning but real and true planning for eventual reality. Live everyday and stay healthy, but do not allow one’s fear of speaking about death to become a pathology.
Some suffer from a mental pathology of Thanatophobia or the fear of death. This is more than a natural fear of the unknown but a topic that physiologically upsets the person to such an extent that the topic causes extreme anxiety and physical reactions such as higher heart beat or blood pressure. While some may have been exposed to something traumatic others can merely develop this fear. If the fears and reactions persist for longer than six months, then professional help may be needed. Therapists usually utilize cognitive behavioral therapy to help understand the phobia as well as exposure therapy where individuals are gradually under the guidance of a counselor are exposed to concepts of death.
Death discussion can seem taboo or morbid but it is a healthy discussion that recognizes reality and life itself. Pastoral Thanatology is the field of care where individuals in ministry help others prepare for death, as well as, help others deal with the death of a loved one. Chaplains, ministers and others in Human Service fields need a strong training in Pastoral Thanatology to better help individuals deal with death issues.
AIHCP offers a four year certification in Pastoral Thanatology. Qualified professionals can earn the Pastoral Thanatology Certification and apply the knowledge and training to their own ministries and help others face and cope with the reality of death. The program is online and independent study. After completion of the core courses, one can apply for a four year certification.
“Thanatophobia (Fear of Death). Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Access here
“Thanatophobia (Fear of Death) Explained”. Fritscher, L. (2023). VeryWellMind. Access here
“We Need to Talk About Death”. Beaumont, A. (2017). Psychology Today. Access here
“Talking About Death With Family: 7 Tips to Start a Dialogue”. Vasquez, A. (2022). Cake. Access here