Go ahead, talk about death

Posted on Dec 12, 2014 | 4 comments

It’s going to happen. To me, to you, and to everyone you encounter today. In fact, it accounts for half of the experiences that are shared by the entirety of the world’s population (the other is birth). So why don’t we talk about it? For the same reason we don’t tend to talk about race, marriages, salaries, genocide, addiction, etc.; it is uncomfortable. It doesn’t need to be. Just once break the mould. With your loved ones, with your friends, with a stranger (ok, don’t go that far…). It is a wildly interesting subject and what you discuss may prove beneficial in the future.

One of the hardest things of losing my mother was the elephant staring us down from the corner. Death. The only question was when. Brain cancer or not, the elephant exists for us all. Despite our circumstances (maybe it was easier to deny the obvious?), we never did discuss it. I wish we had. Knowing her thoughts would have my mind in a much better place now, and arranging services and such after the fact would have been a lot less… not complicated, but certain decisions would have been easier.

On a recent visit to my father, we sat down and had a chat that everyone should have with their loved ones regardless of age (if you have children, your chat should be with a lawyer and you ought to leave with some written documents). We went over his will and had him make it abundantly clear as to what his final wishes were. He was hesitant to share the latter, but having just been through not knowing with my mother, we forced it out of him. Aside from discussing the will, this conversation took all of 30 seconds.

What spurred this bit of writing was an article I read, The Case for Work-Death Balance. The whole death thing extends to work. Let’s face it; for most of us, our jobs define five out of seven days of our week. Why is it that bereavement and care of the sick and/or dying is so poorly granted or defined? Like the writer, I am lucky enough have an outstanding employer who allowed me remote work and as much time off as necessary. Also like the writer, I found that working was actually a great way to keep my mind occupied so I was back at the grindstone pretty quickly.

Go read the article and I implore you to chat with your loved ones sooner rather than later. You never know when it will be too late, and I promise that you’ll regret having not done so. You can thank me later, but hopefully much later.


  1. I was surprised to read you guys never talked about it, but I can see how you would want all thoughts/discussions to be positive ones. I’m “lucky” enough for my parents to have written living/last wills and given them to me for safe keeping. It’s a blessing and a curse, because I know what they want… but I’m also solely responsible to telling the doctors to turn off the machines.

  2. P.S. – Looks like my last comment was one year ago today.

  3. Mike, thank you for sharing your thoughts. My daughters are in your position, so I’m going to follow your example and have that conversation with them. It’s really not that tough for me to talk about my own death. It’s so much more difficult to think of friends and family dying who I care about. And it’s probably the same for my grown daughters.

    I think maybe for your Mom, she really believed or had faith that she could stay alive long enough for some research breakthrough to occur and she could beat this. I know people who have survived against all odds. It’s rare, but it happens. I, too, really believed it would happen for her. I can’t explain it, I just did. And I was angry that there were drugs out there still in the experimental stage that could have been available to someone “terminal” (aren’t we all) who was willing to take the risk. I thought, and still do, that option should be on the table. What’s the worse that can happen?

    As for my parents, who you know pretty well, they refuse to talk. Just the oldest son who is the executor and he’s not talking. So, it’s bizarre as some siblings get information and some don’t. Talking frankly to everyone as adults would help considerably. I think treating the topic and everyone involved with respect would go a long way towards making the inevitable bearable. That’s my two cents worth.


  4. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here and, as unfortunate as it is, it’s good that you’re passing along your own thoughts from what you’ve had to experience. I agree it is a topic that applies to everybody, but very few people want to/are willing to talk about it. I’ve got it on my to-do list to get wills written up (right next to getting some life insurance that will actually make a difference for my family), and I need to prioritize that this year.

    The biggest thing I can contribute here is a challenge that I posed to myself at the beginning of last year. One of the people from my childhood (who was almost like an extra parent to me) passed away and I hadn’t seen him in a while; it made me realize that we’re all getting older, and if you want to get advice from the people you look up to, you have to actively capture it before it is no longer an option. That event pushed me to sit down with my own dad (and have a few people that I intend to meet with) just to do nothing more than to talk with them about deeper subjects that we never get into (how my parents maintained hobbies/their relationship while raising a family, what were the struggles they faced and how would they encourage me to do better than they could, biggest challenges of a family, etc.). One of the big benefits is obviously you get the immediate advice from the conversation, but I felt like it opened up an entirely new avenue of communication. that didn’t previously exist. It reiterates the admiration and trust you have in them, and they may be even more willing to keep the sharing going in the future.