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How do you talk to a parent or grandparent about death?

Talking about death with a parent: how to start the conversation and find the right words to open the dialogue

In this article, we explore techniques and tips to help you open the dialogue about death. Learn how to engage in a sensitive, informed conversation that breaks down the taboos surrounding the discussion of death

In a society where death often remains a taboo subject, even steeped in superstition and fear, starting a conversation about it can be a daunting task. Yet opening up a dialogue and finding ways to talk about it in a sensitive and respectful way is a necessary step. 

If talking about the death of a loved one makes funeral and inheritance procedures easier and clearer, discussing this subject also helps to ease the grieving process, and avoids many situations of misunderstanding and/or conflict at this trying time. 

In this article, we'd like to offer some food for thought and practical advice to help you open the dialogue around death. We'll explore ways in which you can start the conversation, taking into account the different perspectives and sensitivities of each person. We'll also suggest techniques for choosing the right words, those that will both demonstrate your empathy and encourage a constructive, calming discussion. Whether you want to discuss this subject with a child, a parent, a spouse or siblings, our guide is designed to help you make the right choices.

Postumo facilitates these conversations by offering resources and tools to help individuals and families plan for and manage the practical and emotional aspects of this special time of life. With this in mind, we've created a white paper to help you open the dialogue about death with your loved ones.

Download the white paper The 100 questions to ask and to ask yourself when talking about death and finding the right words..

The need to talk about death

Why is it important to talk about death?

It's not an easy subject to broach with our loved ones. 

But avoiding it indefinitely can lead to misunderstandings when death comes.

As difficult as it may seem, preparing for a funeral can help a person contemplate the end of life more serenely, and ensure that his or her wishes are respected. For loved ones, this means avoiding decisions that can be tricky to make if nothing was specified during the deceased's lifetime.


The approach to departure allows you to be better prepared, particularly with regard to the following topics:

  • Preparation and planning : Discussing death helps plan the practical aspects associated with it, such as funeral arrangements, wills and estate preferences.
  • Clarifying your wishes: it gives everyone the opportunity to express their wishes regarding their end-of-life, thus avoiding potential future family disputes.
  • Facilitating bereavement: broaching the subject can ease the grieving process, offering a chance to say goodbye and express unspoken feelings.
  • Anxiety reduction: discussing death openly can help demystify and reduce fear.
  • Deepening relationships : these discussions can strengthen bonds by encouraging the expression of deep emotions and the sharing of perspectives on life and death.
  • Educating the younger generation: Talking about death with children helps them to understand this natural phenomenon in a healthier way, preparing them to face it in turn.
  • Acceptance of reality : Talking about death helps to allay fears and accept this inescapable reality, and to prepare for the departure of loved ones as serenely as possible.

The consequences of subject avoidance

Avoiding talking about death can lead to a range of problems, including family arguments, financial and legal complications, and a more difficult grieving period. 

What's more, it can also lead to regrets and unspoken words that can haunt loved ones long after the death.

We're all aware that talking about the death of a loved one is a particularly delicate subject. With modesty, gentleness and the right choice of words, however, there are several ways to broach the subject and avoid many questions, tensions and mistakes at the time of death. 

How to start a conversation 

Finding the right moment

Choosing the right moment to broach the subject of death is crucial. It's best to choose a quiet moment, free of distractions, when everyone can concentrate fully on the conversation.

It's also important to pay attention to the needs and rhythms of each individual. Is Grandma more tired in the evening? Choose a time when she has the energy to talk. Would you like to discuss your wishes for the day of your departure with your daughter, mother of two young children? Homework-dinner-bath time is probably not the best time for a quality exchange.

Creating an environment conducive to exchange

The environment in which the conversation takes place should be comfortable and conducive to open discussion. It can be a familiar place where everyone feels comfortable and safe to express their thoughts and feelings.

Choose a place where there's privacy and where people feel free to talk.

Use simple, respectful words

When discussing a subject as delicate as death, it's important to choose words that are both respectful and compassionate. This can help avoid any offence or misunderstanding.

If you're struggling to find the right words, or don't know where to start, Postumo offers a list of questions to ask yourself or others to start the dialogue around death. 

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The importance of active listening

Active listening is a crucial skill in these discussions. It's important that each speaker has the time and space to express his or her thoughts without interruption.

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Finding the right words

A few tips for choosing soothing words 

Broaching the subject of death with a loved one is a delicate task that requires great sensitivity and empathy. The words we choose can have a profound impact on how the conversation is perceived. 

  1. Ask for permission: is to leave the choice of when to engage in this delicate conversation.
  2. Prepare yourself mentally Before starting the conversation, take a moment to prepare yourself. Think about the words you want to use and the impact they might have.
  3. Avoid medical terms who may seem cold or insensitive. Use language that humanizes the experience, rather than reducing it to a series of symptoms or diagnoses.
  1. Use metaphors can be a powerful and delicate way of talking about death in a respectful and soothing way. For example, you could talk about "going on a trip" or "falling asleep".
  1. Be a good listener: Before choosing your words, listen carefully to your loved one. Their language and the way they talk about death can give you clues as to how they would like the subject to be approached.
  1. Offer comfort: Be sure to offer comfort and support throughout the conversation. This can include physical gestures, such as holding hands or punctuating the conversation with comforting words.
  2. Be there: More than the words you choose, your presence is essential. Put away the telephones and set aside a sufficiently long time to talk. Offering your time is a step towards the other person that can contribute to an environment conducive to confidence. 
  1. Avoid clichés Clichés: although it may be tempting to resort to well-known clichés, try to avoid them. They can often sound insincere and may not truly reflect your feelings or those of the person you're talking to.
  1. Be patient: The person with whom you wish to discuss this subject may have strong emotional reactions. Be patient and give them space to express their feelings.

Examples of phrases to use and avoid

Here are some examples of phrases that can be used to broach the subject of death, as well as others that are best avoided to avoid causing harm or discomfort.

Talking about death: examples of sentences to use

  • "I'm here for you, however you wish to approach this subject."
  • "It's perfectly normal to feel a range of emotions when thinking about leaving. I'm here to talk about it when you're ready."
  • "Take all the time you need, I'm here."
  • "I'd like us to be able to discuss your wishes and what will happen after you leave. I realize this is a difficult subject for both of you, but it's important, What's the best time for you?"
  • "This is important to both of us, can we take some quiet time to talk about it? "
  • "I can't imagine how difficult it must be for you to contemplate the aftermath, but know that I'm here to talk it through calmly and help you get organized."
  • "If you're ready, I'm here to listen and help you organize your wishes and paperwork."
  • "I understand it's not easy, but sharing your thoughts and wishes can really help us both navigate this time."
  • "I want you to know that your feelings and thoughts are valid, and I'm here to welcome them, whatever they may be."
  • "When you're ready, we can explore your options together so you can make the right decisions for you."
  • "I'm here to support whatever decisions you make about your future, and I'm ready to talk about them whenever you want."
  • "I know this is a very personal and intimate conversation, but know that I'm here to walk you through every step of this process and help you get organized."
  • "If you have any concerns or questions about your departure, please don't hesitate to share them with me. We can look for answers together."
  • "I want you to feel safe and respected in this conversation. The subject is difficult for both of us, your comfort is the priority."
  • "I'm here to help you express your wishes in the way that feels most right and comfortable to you."
  • "If you wish, we can also involve other trusted people in this conversation, to offer you additional support."
  • "I'm here to support you in this reflection, without pressure, and at your own pace, so that you can make the choices that best suit you."

Examples of sentences to avoid 

  • "I know exactly how you feel."
  • "You're wrong."
  • "It's not the right choice."
  • "We'll talk about it later." / "We'll talk about it when you're gone."
  • "At your age, it's time to start thinking about these things, isn't it?"
  • "I don't want to be caught off guard when it happens, so let's talk about it now."
  • "You know, time is running out and I don't want you to leave without planning everything."
  • "I don't want you to leave me in the dark, so we need to talk about your death."
  • "It's best to tackle this subject now, before it's too late."
  • "I don't want to be surprised the day it happens, so let's discuss it."
  • "I think it's time to get your affairs in order, don't you think?"
  • "You have to be realistic, you're not eternal."
  • "I don't want you to die without us having this conversation."
  • "It's time to talk about the inevitable, don't you think?"
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It's important to remember that the aim is to create a space where the person feels safe and respected during this conversation. So it's best to use phrases that encourage open, empathetic dialogue, without putting pressure.

Someone close to you wants to talk about death and starts a conversation: examples of phrases to avoid when dealing with this request

  • "You don't need to worry about that now, you still have plenty of time ahead of you."
  • "Don't be so morbid, let's focus on the present."
  • "I don't think it's the right time to talk about such depressing things."
  • "You're not going to die anytime soon, so why talk about it?"
  • "I don't want to hear about it, it's too sad."
  • "You shouldn't stress yourself with these negative thoughts."
  • "There's no point talking about death, it happens to everyone anyway."
  • "Don't talk about it, it's bad luck."
  • "I think you're exaggerating, it's not that bad."
  • "You shouldn't focus on the end, but rather on what you can do now."
  • "Is it really necessary to talk about this? It makes me uncomfortable."
  • "I don't think you should worry about that, it only creates anxiety."
  • "I don't see why you're bothering with this, death's a long way off."
  • "Don't be so pessimistic, you've still got some great years ahead of you."
  • "I don't think it's healthy to talk about death so openly."
  • "You shouldn't be so obsessed with death, it only makes you unhappy."
  • "I don't want to talk about that, it's too depressing."
  • "Don't waste the present moment thinking about the end, let's enjoy now."

These phrases can be perceived as insensitive or dismissive of the feelings and concerns of the person who wishes to talk about their end. It's best to greet this subject with empathy, respect and openness.

When broaching the subject of death, it's crucial to choose words that offer support and understanding. Phrases that minimize the experience of the bereaved or the person concerned about the end should be avoided.

If you're feeling uncomfortable, remember that the person next to you must be in difficulty too, and remind yourself of the importance of broaching the subject. Together, through dialogue, you can bring serenity for the future. 

The importance of validating others' feelings

It's also important to validate the feelings of the person with whom you're exchanging, showing empathy and understanding, even if their views differ from yours.

Postumo's role 

In a world where the end of life remains a taboo subject, Postumo can be a powerful ally. Here's how Postumo can help you facilitate these crucial conversations:

Postumo simplifies and supports. 

  • How does it work? Postumo offers an intuitive platform where you can manage all the formalities associated with a death. It allows your loved ones to inherit your personal information. More than a "digital safe", Postumo is a place where you can leave your documents, wishes and instructions. A partner in organizing the aftermath.

The benefits of using Postumo

  • Postumo aims to alleviate the administrative burden often associated with death, helping families navigate through complex procedures with ease and peace of mind.
  • Postumo helps you prepare for the formalities: information and access to the formalities required after a death, avoiding complications and additional stress. You're in complete control, in complete security.
  • Parent, child, grandparent, caregiver... We all have an important role to play in preparing for our own or a loved one's demise. By anticipating, I can protect and alleviate the burden on my loved ones. 

In 2023, only 43 % of the French population will be organizing their last departure. While it's difficult for everyone to deal with loss, disappearance and mourning, and to get organized, it's nonetheless an essential subject.

At PostumoWe are committed to facilitating these conversations, and to providing the support and resources you need to ease the administrative burden of death. We encourage you to open the dialogue and share your experiences.

This article was co-authored with contributions from Catherine Hirsch-Gerdollea therapist specializing in individual and couples therapy.

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