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 Death is scary. Understandably so. We, as a species, are programed to survive, to procreate, and to try and live as long as possible.

Talking about death is scary because it brings our own mortality into play, but despite this I still can’t understand why people are so awkward about death.

 

I’m probably not being clear. Think about it this way. Has anyone close to you ever died? Have you ever had to tell someone about that death? How do they react? It seems that people are far more awkward when being informed of the death of someone unknown to them then when talking about their own death or the deaths of those close to them.

I have seen this reaction firsthand, when bringing up the death of a close friend or family member people get awkward. They don’t know where to look, how to stand, what to say. Even if the death happened years ago they are uncomfortable. I rarely bring up the death of anyone close to me – not because of my own discomfort but because of the discomfort, of others. I can feel them get confused, concerned, unsure how to react. It’s easier for me not to bring it up, and it’s easier for them not to know it.  A situation like this I’ve repeatedly observed is a parent that brings up a child who has passed, whether it be a stillbirth or a death as an adult. People get confused, even angry, I’ve heard a
grieving mother be chastised for talking about having three children when only two were living. The person she was talking to couldn’t understand why she had brought up the daughter who had passed. I still cannot believe that a mother was chastised for acknowledging the life, however short, of her own child.
Talk of death brings out the weirdest of reactions in people. These reactions of people being told about the long ago deaths of a person unknown to them don’t fit the theory of people being too scared of their own death to talk about it, so what causes this awkwardness?

I’m not really sure. My gut instinct tells me that it has something to do with fragility. Often when a person realizes someone has lost someone close to them, the person becomes unsure of how to act, concerned that the other person may suddenly start crying, or become hysterical at any moment.

I feel like much of people’s discomfort with talk of death in this setting is due to a discomfort with emotions. We don’t really like it when people display emotions overtly, these people are often mocked for being weak, or strange. Well, in the case of grief, the displays of emotion are normal and I guess some people don’t know how to respond.

The main point of this particular post is to examine why people react this way. Remember, we will all experience loss at some point in our lives; we don’t all become emotional wrecks. If a person is talking about a loss, don’t start behaving awkwardly. If you are concerned about doing something to upset them then ask. Everyone is different, if you are unsure of how to behave then ask. There is nothing wrong with asking a person what they are comfortable with, it is far better than making a person closed off because you become too awkward to converse with, and thoughtfulness is always appreciated. This is true not only for people talking about death, but for all people in all situations. If you are worried something might upset them, or concerned about offending someone then just ask.

And remember, emotions – be they your own or those of other people – are nothing to be afraid of.

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