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Why is death a taboo subject

(52 Posts)
MaggieTulliver Mon 25-Oct-21 08:33:35

I struggle with a fear of death (I’m 64) and have associated health anxiety. I think it’s so unhealthy that in our society, death is hardly ever discussed and that we use terms such as “passed away” instead of died, as if people are offended by the idea of death.

Non-western societies seem to almost embrace death but this must be largely down to the fact that religion is an important factor. However given that we’re now a secular society, how can death be something that’s discussed and accepted? I’m interested in people’s views on this and how, if you have a fear of death like me (it interferes with my day to day life), you manage it.

sodapop Mon 25-Oct-21 09:04:52

In general we do find this a difficult subject MaggieTulliver it's often hard to find the right words to comfort a bereaved person. I'm not afraid of death but of the manner of my dying. I would want to ' go gently into that good night '

Oopsadaisy1 Mon 25-Oct-21 09:19:33

GN is one of the best places for discussing it, anonymity means no one gets upset. We’ve tried discussing it with our ACs and they get so upset that the conversation gets left ‘for another time’.
But this weekend we reviewed our Wills, wrote letters to the children and left funeral details and found a box file to put everything in, including bank details, savings accounts etc.
We then left a note in our filing cabinet telling them where to find everything.
Not much else we can do, at least we feel that we have left (all that we can) things in good order.

Scones Mon 25-Oct-21 09:21:58

I think the the problem with discussing death is that most people avoid the subject until confronted with bereavement. Then the thing you most often hear is 'I don't know what to say'. In my experience people who are bereaved don't want you to say anything...they want you to listen.

My fear of death completely left me when my best friend died suddenly aged 32. I see every day I live as a bonus that she was denied. If I die tomorrow I will have had decades longer than her and I am lucky but so very sorry she didn't have all those days too.

Do you have any help with your anxiety MaggieTulliver ? I know of someone who was helped enormously with health anxiety by a few sessions with a counsellor. If you've already done this then I apologise for teaching you to suck eggs.

Your raising this topic is making us talk about this taboo subject. Thank you!

Jillyjosie Mon 25-Oct-21 09:24:13

This is a slightly cynical response but I think one reason that people don't like to discuss death is that, in general, we in better off societies are having too good a time alive and don't want the party to end! Hence we can ignore 1000 deaths a week from Covid and we can ignore climate change because both threaten us with death (as does smoking etc etc) but few want to give up the delights of indulging ourselves today. Jam today wins over death tomorrow!
I recently read a suggestion that ancestor worship in China grew out of a fear that the dead would be angry with the living for still being alive and well and so the spirits of the dead had to be remembered and propitiated in case they returned and took revenge.
Parts of our brains are still very primitive and fear of and avoidance of death is probably more than the presence or absence of religion. Or maybe religion previously gave a way of reassuring our primitive brains!

Kali2 Mon 25-Oct-21 09:33:45

It is not a taboo subject in our house, and with our (adult) children and close family. They know how we feel, what we would wish to happen, and about having to volunteer organ donation, etc. They also know how we feel about assisted suicide, including in the case of Alzheimers. All clear. In the meantime, we have lots of fun and love ... but it's good to know.

Peasblossom Mon 25-Oct-21 09:33:58

Do you mean you fear the actual process of death or that you fear being dead, potentially ceasing to exist? Or is it the fear of the unknown?

Maybe if you could pinpoint the source of your fear, you could begin to take steps to overcome it.

Death has been very much part of my life from childhood and it was always talked about, before and after,

I don’t fear it really. It’s not very different from being born. But I guess we’d all like to go quickly and painlessly. I do worry about that aspect of it sometimes.

BridgetPark Mon 25-Oct-21 09:43:25

As we approach our senior years, there is no escaping the inevitablity of death. As we lose close friends and family, it makes you realise you must put your affairs in order, as they say. I have always struggled with accepting that we are here for such a short time. We are, hopefully, loved by our families, adored by our grandchildren, and then, it ends. I have recently lost a brother, only 63, and a dear friend, 71, and it kind of showed me that nothing is going to stop it happening to me. So i have come to accept it, and i am now making efforts to get rid of stuff around the home, that is surplus and i will never use. I have also just drawn up a will, all sobering things, but i have to accept it. I hope to have another 30 years, i am 66 now, and so long as my health holds out, i will be happy with that.
As Woody Allen has said, I am not afraid of dying, I just dont want to be there when it happens........

Shandy57 Mon 25-Oct-21 10:04:22

Interesting that you have posted about this, I've just had a sad conversation with my daughter about her Dad's unexpected and sudden death.

Her Dad died five years ago, when she was 20, and she now plans to buy a house with her boyfriend. I've offered to help her with her deposit, she is so sad that her Dad is missing yet another stage in her life. It's not just missing them, but what they are missing.

Both of my kids know my plans for future care, that I've made my will and written them letters, and my wishes for my funeral. I do still need to do LPOA.

maddyone Mon 25-Oct-21 10:08:42

I think many people are afraid of the process of dying. Also the idea of not being here is difficult to process. We can’t really imagine the world and our families carrying on without us. I also fear being left alone because my husband dies first. I’d rather be the one that goes first.

Scones Mon 25-Oct-21 10:08:43

So sorry to hear about your brother and friend BridgetPark. You must have had some dark days recently. I wish you easier times ahead and many laughs at Woody Allen and life in general too. flowers

Macgran43 Mon 25-Oct-21 10:11:54

Since my DH died earlier this year I’m not afraid of dying.I used to worry about what would happen to him if I died first as he needed me to look after him. Like others I’m afraid of the illness that will cause my death. I think we as a society are talking about death more now.

Kandinsky Mon 25-Oct-21 10:20:33

It’s not the greatest of subjects to talk about is it?
I mean, all death means is pain & untold sadness & grief in majority of cases.
Who wants to talk about that?

MaggieTulliver Mon 25-Oct-21 10:37:15

Kandinsky, talking about death helps remove the taboo - or is burying one’s head in the sand the preferable option? I don’t wish to dwell on it and that’s why I’ve posted here and I’m pleased that people are prepared to talk about it. But I think for me the only way to come to terms with it is to find a spiritual path and expose myself to ideas other than those prevalent in our society.

winterwhite Mon 25-Oct-21 10:45:26

Your choice of user name is interesting, OP. Maggie didn't have a very good death, poor girl.
I like the comment about Chinese ancestor worship. Will remember that!

Blossoming Mon 25-Oct-21 10:45:32

It’s not taboo as far as I’m concerned.

M0nica Mon 25-Oct-21 10:47:01

I am like kali, I am quite comfortable talking about death, my own and other peoples. It occurs casually in conversation and as a result my family know my wishes.

But that isn't the point is it really, for many people the taboo is that they never talk of death because they simply do not want to consider that they or those they love will eventually die.

The lady who dealt witht the formalities of my father's hospital death was amazed how philosophical we were about his death. In turn my sister and I were equally surprised that anyone would behave differently. He was 92 when he died, and was living independently and active until his last illness. We were just so grateful to have had him with us so long and so well. He was bound to die, we knew that and all three of us had mentioned it at various times. At his age, it was likelynto be sooner rather than later - and the time had come.

Yet this lady said, that so many families, even with family members as old as my father, dying after years of illness would be angry because they had died, because the doctors had not cured them and sent them home. I am sure that reaction was because death was a taboo to them, not thought of and never discussed.

maddyone Mon 25-Oct-21 12:23:32

Those who are born will die, it’s a fact. I don’t understand people being angry when their very elderly relative dies. If people live to a great old age then they are very lucky and so are their relatives, if the old person is healthy and not an entitled sort of person. We’ve got three 94 year olds still here and I can tell you it’s no picnic. Sorry if that sounds hard, but it’s the truth. My mother certainly was not a great mother but now she’s old she expects to be looked after, and as my sister lives miles away, it’s myself and my husband who are expected to look after her. People in their late 60s and their 70s are expected to put their own retirement on hold and look after very elderly relatives, who quite often weren’t expected to do this themselves and weren’t always the best of parents.

BridgetPark Mon 25-Oct-21 12:24:28

Thankyou Scones, it has been very trying all told, and draining. But you do learn that life goes on. I love being on Gransnet, i take so much comfort from the comments of others, and the topics are always interesting. So thankyou again, for reading my post, and thinking of me in a personal way, very heartwarming

Kali2 Mon 25-Oct-21 12:34:00


It’s not the greatest of subjects to talk about is it?
I mean, all death means is pain & untold sadness & grief in majority of cases.
Who wants to talk about that?

Depends how you do it. We have talked about it with ACs and each other, and close relatives. We joke about it - but it is good to know how people would like things to be handled if and when. We don't talk about it often.- once you have done it - then no need to go over it again unless you change your mind.

For instance the agony of spouse of AC if they have to switch off a breathing machine, and make a decision about organ donation, for instance. And the cost- the thought of 1000s being spent on a funeral really annoys me. So if undertakers put pressure on them to spend and spend (and some do...) they can quietly say, no, this is not what mum wanted and always made this perfectl clear.

Kim19 Mon 25-Oct-21 12:48:19

The thought of being dead (tomorrow even) doesn't bother me a jot but the process of getting there has some concerns. Memo to self.....must get that PoA seen to!

BRAVEBETH Mon 25-Oct-21 12:56:35

My mother is 101 and living in a retirement establishment. It is awful as everybody ignores me. It happens everytime someone is facing death. The manager can't wait for mother to die
My mother knows this and has stated many times nobody wants me. The hospital is just as bad
They wanted her to die in 2019
She is a strong lady but it has been unbearable due to lack of care from NHS. They are not angels. Some are wonderful.
The staff in the stores are wonderful yet no recognition The road sweepers are wonderful. The little girl with Downs Syndrome gives me the most beautiful smile. The dogs are always greet me with enthusiasm and give me hope. I taught children in a hospital school. they always knew when they were going to die. No fear just gave away their toys and said Goodbye.
I can't wait to die. It will be wonderful

paddyann54 Mon 25-Oct-21 13:13:03

I grew up in a family with an Irish heritage ,death was never hidden from us even as small children.It was expected we went to funerals and wakes. I brought my children up the same way

AGAA4 Mon 25-Oct-21 13:24:57

I do think some people don't want to talk about death or have anything to do with it.

When my husband died some people who I knew well avoided me. It was as though death was contagious. Even those friends who visited avoided the subject. Maybe they thought it would upset me and I was grateful to one friend whose own husband had died and she talked about how it feels when someone close dies.
We could be better as a society at talking about death.

MaggieTulliver Mon 25-Oct-21 15:11:23

Thank you for all your posts and sharing some hard experiences. I do find huge solace in nature; it makes me appreciate that I’m only a tiny part of something huge. And watching the wildlife (and my dog), living just for today.

I also find peace in visiting the beautiful cathedral at the end of my road (I’m that lucky) and even better I can take my dog with me.