The words we use for dealing with the grief of others and our personal grief are not the same

·2-min read
The experience of death described by participants in a study highlights a clear difference in the vocabulary used to express their own feelings and those of others.

How can we talk about death and mourning with those around us? A team of Australian researchers has analyzed the vocabulary used by a thousand adults when discussing these issues.

How do we deal with the issue of mourning, especially when it affects us personally?

A recent study devoted to the subject published in the prestigious journal Plos One provides some answers. Researchers interviewed 1,491 people during a six-week online course at Flinders University in Australia.

At the time of registration, MOOC participants answered a short series of questions about their general attitude towards death. The idea was to analyze the participants' choice of words to express their feelings and ideas on this particular topic, and then to compare these responses with their responses after the six-week course.

In this study, the experience of death described by the participants highlights a clear difference in the vocabulary used to express their own feelings and those of others. For example, terms such as "sad," "fear," "scary" and "loss" came more naturally to them when talking about grieving for someone else.

On the other hand, when the issue of death directly affected them, those who attended the training were more likely to use less emotionally negative terms such as "inevitable," "peace" and "natural". At the end of the program, participants were able to use "more pleasant, calmer and dominating (in-control) words to express their feelings about death," the researchers observed.

"This could impact on our willingness to start conversations about death with others," notes Dr Lauren Miller-Lewis, co-author of the research. "Do we avoid it because we think others will get upset if we bring it up, and does this then leave important things unsaid?" the researcher interrogates.

According to Professor Jennifer Tieman, who also participated in the study, further research involving the analysis of feelings about death and grief could provide valuable insights into how people deal with other health-related situations, including palliative care, euthanasia and the covid-19 pandemic.