Why don’t we talk about dying?

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1. Facing up to death

My relationship with death began at the relatively tender age of 37. In October 2013 I was told that I had between three and six months to live.

I have stage four breast cancer and am on my last chemotherapy treatment. I've had several years to think about my own death and what I'm going to do before I die.

Death is a certainty for us all, but it's still something we often don't want to talk about. So how should we plan and communicate about the final event of our lives? And why have we become so reluctant to discuss our own deaths?

2. How has our experience of death changed?

In the UK, death is primarily associated with old age.

Generations ago, death within the family was far more common because of a variety of factors, which included infant mortality, maternal death in childbirth, industrial accidents, illness and disease.

Dying was something that used to happen at home. Family members were 'laid out to rest' in the front room of the house, usually in their coffins.

It was here that extended family and neighbours would pay their respects and view the dead body. Death was familiar.

During the course of the 20th Century, and particularly after World War Two and the establishment of the welfare state, dying became more private with most people dying in hospitals or residential care. Our contact with death had started to wane.

3. Reluctant to talk

ComRes survey results (April 2015) about death and dying on behalf of the National Council for Palliative Care

National Council for Palliative Care

A ComRes survey (April 2015) about death and dying conducted on behalf of the National Council for Palliative Care found that, although most of us think it's more acceptable to talk about dying now than it was 10 years ago, the majority of people think we're still uncomfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement.

4. Dying on social media

Although people may not like to talk about their own death or that of loved ones, the passing of famous figures such as David Bowie can help to open up the conversation about the subject, especially across social media.

This can be a helpful way into talking about dying. Dr Mark Taubert, a palliative care consultant, wrote an open letter to Bowie saying that his demise became a way for him and a patient "to communicate very openly about death". It was published on the British Medical Journal website and was retweeted by Bowie's son Duncan Jones.

And social media is undoubtedly changing the way we witness the process of dying. People like me, who are terminally ill and document their treatment and illness online, offer their readers and followers an insight into what it’s like to face an imminent death.

Professor Glennys Howarth, who studies attitudes towards death and dying, says that the increasing use of digital and social media means the way in which we communicate about dying is changing.

"Although it is still a very private event for many people, for others it is an experience that they want to share, and they now have the technology to do so," she says. "So it may be that attitudes to dying aren't changing, but that attitudes to whether dying should be a private or a public experience are."

5. Documenting dying

I've been talking about my illness through two TV documentaries, radio interviews and social media. I hope that I'm helping to demystify terminal illness and get people to discuss death.

My attitude towards living is changing as my cancer spreads. From Before I Kick the Bucket: The Whole Story (BBC One Wales, 2016).

6. How to start the conversation

So, how do you start talking about dying? Here are some things to consider.

Making a will

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Making a will

A will avoids legal disputes and arguments once you’ve died. Citizens Advice can help on where to start.

Organ donation

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Organ donation

You can help someone after you die by donating your organs. Contact the NHS Organ Donation Register and tell family/friends about your wishes.

End of life care

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End of life care

Consider the care you’d like and whether you’d want treatment to prolong your life. You can do this by making an Advance Decision.

Planning your funeral

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Planning your funeral

Do you want to be buried or cremated? You can arrange your own funeral service while you're still alive, discuss it with loved ones or put it in your will.