Why we need to talk about death
On dying, grief and the last taboo
I once made the mistake of talking to a date about dying.
To me, it was a positive conversation on something I’d thought a lot about since being diagnosed with cancer in 2012. My date, on the other hand, was horrified.
Not everyone is comfortable talking about death, particularly when it involves our loved ones. But the more we normalise it, the better we’ll be able to deal with it and process it when it happens. As CoppaFeel! founder Kris Hallenga told me:
“Talking about death doesn’t bring it on faster”.
It’s so true. In her (utterly brilliant) book, Glittering a Turd, Kris talks openly about death because she’s had to confront it daily for the last 13 years since being diagnosed with incurable cancer at age 23. Even though Kris is well, she’s spent time thinking about what she wants for her funeral, and whether there’ll be cake. When the time comes – and hopefully it’s a long way off – she’ll be more prepared than most people for her death, and hopefully that will help her and her family nearer the time.
I have always loved the way death is dealt with in Mexican culture, which I experienced when I lived there in 2003. Every year, on the Day of the Dead, families visit the graves of their loved ones to celebrate their lives with their favourite foods and music. It’s the opposite of how we do it in Britain, where we often avoid talking about the people who have died for fear of upsetting the grieving.
But people who are grieving often want to talk about their loved ones. They don’t want them to be forgotten or for you to pretend they never existed. So if you’re talking to a friend whose loved one has died, ask them ‘what were they like?’ and then simply listen.
Dame Deborah James has done a brave and brilliant thing by allowing us to follow her as she reaches the end of her life, and by opening up a national conversation about death. As the journalist Clover Stroud says in my latest podcast episode:
Having conversations about death is important because otherwise we put a taboo around it, a fear around it, which is rightful because it is the unknown, and yet it is a thing that’s going to happen to absolutely all of us. Familiarising ourselves with the language of grief and death takes some of the fear away from it.
So how about we all have a go at talking about, or at least thinking about, death? After all, it’s the only certainty we have in life.
You can listen to my latest podcast episode here:
Upcoming events and other book news
It’s hard to believe Single Bald Female has been out for a whole month, but it’s wonderful meeting readers and seeing the five-star reviews that keep rolling in. I am reminded by my publishing team that these reviews are really, really important because they help bookshops to know what readers are loving, and therefore they’re more likely to promote the book. So if you haven’t left a review yet, please do!
Next week, on Thursday 2nd June, I’ll be celebrating the Jubilee holiday by speaking at the Margate Bookie alongside my author pal Hannah Tovey. Entry is free, so come and say hi if you’re in town.
Last time I went to Margate, I swam in the Walpole Tidal Pool and had one of the most wonderful meals of my life at a restaurant called Dory’s. A couple of years before, when I was writing Single Bald Female, I printed off the manuscript and read it by the sea to get out of my comfort zone. And the time before that, I was on the steps to the ocean when I took my first call from an agent, offering me representation for the book. Margate is a special place to me, and I can’t wait to go back.
On Thursday 16th June I’ll be speaking at The Blue Boar Hotel in the home of Maldon Sea Salt with the wonderful independent bookshop Maldon Books in Essex. Tickets are £5 and I’ll be signing books for anyone who’d like one.
Are you planning on coming to either of these events? Let me know!
A rundown of the stuff I’m loving right now.
What I’ve been reading:
— The Flames by Sophie Haydock. A fun, sexy, moving portrayal of the four muses of the artist Egon Schiele. It’s not the sort of thing I usually read as I know nothing about art, but I absolutely loved it.
— Dreamland by Rosa Rankin-Gee. One of my favourite reads of 2021, it’s out in paperback today so I wanted to give it another shout-out. It’s pure dystopian genius set in wonderful Margate.
What I’ve been listening to:
— Nicola Slawson on being single but wanting children on Totally Fine with Tiffany Philippou. Nicola so brilliantly articulates something called ‘social infertility’ and this is well worth a listen. Nicola and Tiffany run brilliant newsletters: The Single Supplement and The Tiff Weekly.
— Christine Quinn on Table Manners with Jessie and Lennie Ware. If you love Selling Sunset, listen to this podcast episode immediately.
What I’ve been watching:
— Conversations with Friends. Apart from feeling infuriated by Joe Alwyn’s attempt at an Irish accent, and conflicted about the majority of the characters’ total unlikeability, I enjoyed the latest Sally Rooney adaptation. Now I’m just counting the days until Everything I Know About Love drops.
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