Let’s Talk About Death, Baby.


"Is Heaven up there? In the sky?" - My 5 year old

“Is Heaven up there? In the sky?” – My 5 year old

It was 5.50 a.m and I wasn’t even halfway through my morning coffee when my five year old, ever so sweetly, said:

‘Mum, I’m going to REALLY miss you…when you die.’

So, before you ask, I will be writing a “Kid’s Questions” on death and dying soon, but for now I wanted to start talking, between ourselves, about death.

I consider myself very privileged to have been around death. As a nurse I have been honoured to hold the hands of dying patients and to have cared for them in their last moments. I will always remember one particular patient; I was the first to find him after he had passed away and that was an honour. An even bigger honour was that fact that I was one of the last people to feed him a few days before that. It was a meal of jelly and ice-cream.

But for the majority of us, and for me, most of the time now, death is kept hidden behind closed doors. Hospitals deal with the act of dying, funeral services with the body and as for us? We normally just keep quiet about it. Why, is death so hard to talk about? Because it’s sad. Damn, it’s sad. And final. But it is also a bit scary isn’t it? I mean, no one really knows what happens afterwards and no one can come back and ‘tell’ us what it feels like to die. Does it hurt? What does it feel like when the heart stops and the brain slowly slips into an oblivion from which there is no going back? Do you know what’s happening?

Yes. Death is difficult to talk about.

But there is an irony in all of this too. Whilst the subject of death is tiptoed around, it is, at the same time, shoved in our faces and pushed up our noses. In a way, we are perhaps more aware of what a violent death “could look like” more than ever before. Movies showing battle scenes with people ‘hacked’ to death, films about murderers with tortured victims, video games where the (young) player partakes in deathly combats for hours at a time, literally blasting other players to pieces for fun. Meanwhile, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, images of mangled bodies from worn torn countries worldwide can flood our feeds and histories every day.

In a society that is scared of talking about death, we sure aren’t scared of whacking violent images of it up on the big screen, nor of our children playing the virtual ‘killer’.

The majority of death images we see through these means are violent. It worries me that we are getting used to this, are we becoming de-sensitized to violent means of killing and dying? It’s more or less normal to see someone die violently in a movie – yet should it be?

I think it’s time we started talking about death to our children and ourselves…without glamourizing or over-dramatizing it.

Do you think we can we do this, or is it simply just too hard? How could we start talking about death in a way that is both healthy and meaningful?

  6 comments for “Let’s Talk About Death, Baby.

  1. James
    March 5, 2013 at 3:10 am

    Maybe having a small pet like a hamster is a good idea, as their lifespan is usually no more than a few years. Although the death of the hamster will be intensely painful for the child – it will serve as an opportunity to face this topic head on. Whats your thoughts on that?

    • Naomi R Cook
      March 5, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      I think you raise a really valid point in that death is actually all around us in everyday life. From the leaves ‘dying’ on the trees in autumn, to the dead ant that I’ve just squished with my finger, or the stinking road kill that you pass on the way to school. Throw pets in the mix and we have ample chances to enter into conversations about death.

      But I think you are right in that having and losing a pet is probably the closest a child will get to experiencing the permanence of death without losing a friend or family member…tough times.

  2. March 5, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Good point. Society is indeed saturated with images of death in entertainment, and yet so many individuals ignore their own personal mortality. Ernest Becker’s “Denial of Death” along with his other writings have helped me formulate many of my thoughts on death. Thanks for your brave article.

    • Naomi R Cook
      March 5, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Thanks for your comment and for the reference to Becker, I’m really keen to check that out. I also struggle with periods of ‘existential angst’, which on the whole, are easier to get through by focusing on day to day trivia!

      One thing that I’ve been really bothered by recently is the amount of ‘death as entertainment’ in children’s entertainment; books and films. It’s something I will post on in the next few days, looking at the ethical and moral duty of the artist and publishing/film industries. Somehow I feel, there will be many who disagree with what I have to say!

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