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Why You Should Add “Talk About Death” To Your 2021 Resolutions

It is painful to think of a loved one dying, but it is likely that you have thought about your own death, especially with COVID-19 having affected so many.

I started thinking about my own death when I was very young. My mom was a tough single mother, and she didn’t shy away from discussing the hard issues, like death. Someone “dying” or “passing away,” didn’t really mean anything to my childhood naivety. My favorite movie as a child was “The Lion King,” and it was a powerful tool my mom used to help me understand the concept of death. “Completed their circle of life,” was the powerful phrase I understood. The scene where Simba, shaking his dad and crying out for him to wake up, held enough gravitas for me to know that when someone had completed their circle of life, it meant they had died.

I was nine and had been to more funerals than my age. It wasn’t weird; it just was.

A favorite quote of mine is by Katherine Sleeman, a Palliative Medicine Registrar at the Cicely Saunders Institute. When she spoke at the Imagining the Future of Medicine event, she urged the audience to reevaluate how we deal with death (17:46):

“We prepare for the arrival of a new baby, we plan for it, we think about what we are going to buy and what we are going to call the new baby. It is part of our daily life, our conversation. Why do we not prepare for our death in the same way? I would like everyone to have a good death but we can’t achieve that unless we as a society stop whispering and start talking about it.”


In the midst of the greatest pandemic since 1918, many of us have confronted death more in the past year than we previously had in our lives. Even before the pandemic, I frequently spoke to friends and family about dying and what they wished to have done to their bodies after death.

“What do you want to happen to your body after you die?” It is a common question I discuss with my friends when on a long drive or over a shared meal. It usually catches them off guard, but answers are given quickly and freely, yearning to be said aloud. Most of us have thought of our own death and what our plans are for after death, yet rarely are they discussed with anyone. Why not?

As a society in the new age of medicine, we know that modern medicine is making wonderful strides; however, it has not yet come up with an Elixir of Life. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “...but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I would like everyone to have a good death but we can’t achieve that unless we as a society stop whispering and start talking about it. —Dr. Katherine Sleeman, NIHR Clinician Scientist

Death is an unspoken future, one that isn’t normally brought up over a meal with friends or a family event. Yet it is normal for us to think of our own demise, even when we fear it. The courage it takes to get out any question regarding death often feels like a taboo type of courage. Once you gather your courage and ask about death, you may be faced with an immediate, “Why are you asking me that?”. It is not from anger, but from shock; allow them a moment to gather their own courage.

A year ago I asked my aunt whether she and my uncle had discussed their will with my cousin, also an only child. They hadn’t, but they did have plans on what they wanted to gift me with at the end of their life. It was a special moment to know that I was to receive a gift- a piece of furniture that would benefit me enormously when it came to sewing. I gathered my courage, thanked my aunt for the gesture, and politely declined. I knew I would be receiving the same furniture item from my mom and that I would be burdened with the emotional guilt of deciding what to do with a second one. I suggested that instead, she start some treasured memories with her eldest grandchild, and bequeath it to her. It was a peaceful moment and one I am proud to have discussed with honesty. There were no hard feelings, and it set both of our minds at ease to know that the item in question would be valued after death.