How to talk about death (and why it’s good to do it)


The death is something natural and, sooner or later, it makes an appearance through the death of a loved one or oneself. The taboo and the afraid often accompany everything that surrounds the deathgenerating a silence that distorts this process that is intrinsic to the very nature of life.

Although little is said about it, death is always present. During the fourth week of 2022 more than 11,000 people died in Spain from any causeaccording to data from National Statistics Institute (INE). In the last two years and, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, mortality has shot up in punctual peaks. Just one fact: During the week of March 30 to April 5, 2020, more than 20,000 died of any cause. Is not talking about death really good? Why have we created a taboo? Should children participate? Has death always been perceived this way?

“Humans are the only animals that know that we are going to die, but we have turned the subject into a taboo & rdquor ;, explains the health psychologist Martha Argileswho answered many of these questions in the talk “Let’s talk about death without taboos & rdquor;organized by the Memorial Foundation through the Support Space.

Evolution of the perception of death in history

Humanity’s perception of death has been evolving together with society itself and the thought. The ancient Greek philosophers believed that death was the immortality of the soul.. “The body died and the soul was free, they were two different elements. The same thing happened with the arrival of Christianity. During the Middle Ages there was talk of domestic death, the good death in which if you had been good you would have a good final judgement. People were aware that they were dying and invited others to watch over them & rdquor ;, explains Argilés.

During the XIX century it starts to perceive death as something of their own. You begin to think about it, about what the end will be like, the duel that it will generate and the meaning of death. “It is a very real perception, because when a loved one dies, families perceive that a part of their own existence has been lost and they need to get out of there to live again,” says the expert.

During the World War I and with the arrival of twentieth century the phenomenon of “prohibition of death & rdquor;. “Death was removed from daily life, space is no longer given to manage a good mourning and situations against care are generated,” says Argilés.

Why do we avoid talking about death?

Today we try to avoid pain, disease and death. Society feels uncomfortable with these concepts and all this contributes to create taboos around these issues. The fear of death accompanies people throughout life and the perception, in addition to an education that does not address these issuesdoesn’t help either.

“We perceive death as something distant. We see how people around us die but we find it hard to talk about it. You don’t live thinking about the present moment and that any moment can be the last & rdquor ;, says the expert.

give meaning to life

The meaning of life is part of process of transcendence to death. In this sense, Argilés poses an important question that everyone should ask themselves: “What does life expect of me?”. “Many times we ask ourselves this question in reverse: What do I expect from life? But we have to turn it around & rdquor ;, points out the expert.

Transcendence is something very important. “Life has limits, such as death, and meanwhile we transcend. The important thing about transcending through life is how we arrive at death and what will happen next. If I die fully because my life has had meaning, I will be able to die in peace, even if it is not always positive & rdquor ;, says Argilés.

In this sense, the spirituality also has a fundamental role. “Spirituality allows us to talk about transcendence and find meaning at the end of life. Spirituality is not religion, the latter is the language that allows us to talk about spirituality and transcendence & rdquor ;, explains the expert.

care at the end of life

Cicely Saunders was the promoter of palliative care in the 70s of the last century. This London nurse and doctor was the first professional who put her efforts into caring for the terminally ill, alleviating their pain and dignifying their end-of-life process. Currently, palliative medicine is essential for care at the end of life and, in addition, allows actively involve the family in the process and includes services that go beyond physical relief, such as psychology.

But not only palliative medicine plays an important role. Argilés also believes in the importance of support groups. “There we can provide knowledge and strategies to face that unique moment in life, both for the deceased and for his family & rdquor ;, adds the expert.

But the environment plays the most important role in end-of-life care. Listen actively, accompany in silence, observe the environment and something as important as allowingare key issues. “Caring in time of death is allowing and allowing oneself to feel all the emotions that can be produced. Feeling pain, saying goodbye…”, explains the psychologist.

How should death be faced?

The attitude towards death is something very personal, but some elements can always help to face it differently. Argilés highlights four aspects:

  • Tell the truth: Both the family and the deceased must always know the truth. The pact of silence surrounding a death must be broken and, for example, in the event of a terminal illness, it is recommended that both parties be aware at all times.

  • Allow to say goodbye: Both parties must be able to say goodbye, even the children. “Will it cause pain? Yes, a lot. But that person is empowered by the simple fact of having been able to do it & rdquor ;, points out the expert.

  • Recognize and express feelings: It is good to be able to express what a person feels. A person who is dying must be able to express their feelings and the family as well. The person who is grieving and who cares for him should also be expressed.

  • Keep activities: In a moment of mourning it is logical that some activities can be left aside, but it is advisable to return to them when time passes. And, under no circumstances, it is advisable to make big changes.

How to deal with infant death?

One of the most complex deaths is that of children. “It is more taboo than death itself and it is very difficult to conceive it & rdquor ;, says Argilés. The expert points out that, for example, there is no name to define it. “When a spouse dies we are left widowers, when a parent dies we are orphaned but, when a child dies, there is no word capable of describing it & rdquor ;, explains the expert.

It is not easy to explain to a child that he is at the end of his life, but It is important for families to learn to communicate. For this, it is necessary to take into account the developmental, cognitive and emotional age of the minor. Resources such as games or drawings can help to know their feelings and see how they live the situation.

In this regard, it is also important involve the little ones in the family in the situation. “The brothers are the great forgotten and they are not given enough value. They have to be participants in this situation & rdquor ;, points out Argilés, who believes in the need to naturalize these issues from an early age. To all this, it is also essential to add the work of death in the classroom and help schools with resources. “If we can work on all these points, we will be able to break the taboos about death and speak naturally about it,” says the expert.

close to families

Memorial Foundation offers resources families to address everything related to the end of life. In the case of bereavement, for example, support services are offered such as a 24-hour psychological helpline, mourning groups and speaking spaces, the web community “Your support online”, psychological support and spaces for remembrance.


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