Older people and their families need to start having difficult conversations about dying and coping with bereavement after a survey showed more than half (56%) of surveyed adults in the UK don’t want to talk about death.

The survey from Independent Age also found that fewer than a quarter (23%) have actually had this conversation already and under one in three (31%) said that talking about death is always difficult, no matter the circumstances. More than one in 13 (8%) think that it has become even more difficult to talk about death in the context of coronavirus.

The most common reason given to not talk about death with family members or friends was not wanting to upset them (22%). Respondents aged 65 and over, however, were the most likely to say that nothing would stop them talking about death, with almost half (46%) agreeing.

It is essential to discuss death during the pandemic

With the number of people in the UK who have lost their lives to coronavirus continuing to rise, Independent Age believes it’s more important than ever that we speak to our friends and family about what we would want to happen if we became very ill or even died.

Corinne Sweet, psychologist, psychotherapist, author and broadcaster, commented: “Very few people find talking about death with their nearest and dearest easy, because it raises awkward or difficult emotions such as fear, anxiety and grief. They may feel a ’taboo’ about mentioning death, as if it might make it happen somehow. Or fear their loved ones are wanting to get rid of them. People can also feel embarrassed or frightened about bringing up death with loved ones as they fear upsetting them, but the pandemic has made it even more essential for us to discuss it, no matter how difficult it feels.

“Obviously, the future is unknown right now. We can hope for the best, but discussing the worst ahead of time is a good idea. You can share and process feelings together, and make practical plans. This is especially important in lockdown, where a funeral may have to be ‘virtual’. Putting peoples’ minds at rest about death can make things easier in the long run.”

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, added: “The lockdown period has been difficult for all of us, but for those who have suffered a bereavement, it will have been even harder. Funeral plans may have had to change because of new restrictions, and it can be a lot harder to grieve when you’re not able to be with the rest of your family.

“Although coping with death and bereavement will always be difficult, no matter what, it can sometimes be made a little bit easier if we know what our loved one would have wanted, which can only be assured if we speak to each other.”

Independent Age is also working with Grief Chat, to provide emotional support for bereaved people, access to trained bereavement counsellors and referral into other specialist bereavement services. Further information is available at independentage.org/information/personal-life/grief-chat