New research from the older people’s charity, Independent Age, reveals that almost half (44%) of the sandwich generation (40-64 year olds) do not feel comfortable talking to their parents about death. However, according to the older generation surveyed (over 65s), 58% think it’s important to open up about death.

According to the survey, the sandwich generation admitted to feeling more comfortable talking about their weight or obesity (31%), the amount of alcohol they drink (27%) or their personal finances (26%) than talking about dying and final wishes (24%). In fact, 20% even admitted to feeling more comfortable talking about sexual orientation (11%) and sex (9%).

In the research, the sandwich generation cited not wanting to upset their parents (39%) and not wanting them to feel like death is on the horizon (37%) as the main reasons for not broaching the topic of death.

Comparatively, when asking the older generation why they think death is a taboo subject, 45% revealed they believe it’s because people don’t like the thought of not being here, with a similar amount (44%) believing it’s because people fear dying. Although two-fifths (39%) did confess that even if they were to talk about it they simply don’t know how to. 

Corinne Sweet, Psychologist, author and broadcaster, commented: “People find death a difficult topic to discuss as it usually brings up a lot of feelings of anxiety, fear, awkwardness or sadness. So it’s no surprise, as a culture, we prefer to pretend that it’s not going to happen. But when it does, we are thrown by the strong emotions it brings up. That’s why it’s incredibly important for all generations to talk about death - ahead of time - so that feelings can be faced, processed, relationships set straight and any final wishes are shared.

“Talking about death will always seem a bit tricky, especially talking about people closest to you, but there will be relief in airing things. Knowing time is finite can encourage people to make decisions, take risks, experiment with experiences and learn new skills. You may even get closer in the process, and be able to put to rest any confusions, conflicts or unfinished business. This can bring great peace of mind to everyone concerned.”

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “It’s understandable that many people struggle to talk about death and final wishes. It’s an incredibly emotive topic and unsurprisingly, people don’t always know how to broach the subject. The older you get the more aware you are of death. But wouldn’t it be helpful if we could all be more open and share our final wishes earlier, so our later years can be filled with positivity, rather than awkward conversations?

“We believe it’s really important for families to start breaking the taboo, so they can feel prepared for the eventualities of life, and the sandwich generation is really important in enabling this conversation.

“As a nation, we need to start embracing these conversations and promote a positive change in how we perceive and talk about this subject. We don’t expect this to change overnight, but it’s time to take action, be brave and talk about death.”

Of the 70% of over 65s who have spoken to a family member, there was a clear distinction between men and women. While men were most likely to have spoken to their partner (78% vs 50% of women), women were more likely to have spoken about their deaths with their adult children (77% vs 57% of men).

You can also find out more about Independent Age’s ‘We need to talk about death’ campaign by searching #TalkAboutDeath on Twitter.

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