Talking about Death

Today marks the beginning of ‘Dying Matters’ Awareness Week. The organisation ‘Dying Matters’ aims to raise awareness of dying, death and bereavement. These are all matters that I work and live with, as we all do to a greater or lesser extent.

While it’s been commonly said that ‘death’ is one of the last ‘taboos’, I don’t really fall for that as I come across many different ‘taboos’, I do think there is an inherent reluctance to talk about it.

It might be superstition or an attempt to put off the inevitable, or a wish to suppress some of the feelings that will be unearthed when we consider the end of life but a planned death, even if it is unexpected, is going to be easier than an unplanned one. And we are never too young to start planning.

My own experiences lead me to believe that there is no age too young to start discussing issues of both life and death . Children should not be shielded from discussions about death, dying, loss and bereavement although obviously there are age appropriate materials and ways of conducting discussions.

The most important thing though about discussions at any age is honesty. Deception is easily spotted.

Even those who have not had close experiences of death need to feel comfortable to discuss these matters without feeling embarrassment or anxiety. We all die. We all experience deaths of those who are close to us. We cannot provide support and care if we are reluctant to discuss this.  Some are more eager to talk about it than others, of course, but it can be enormously therapeutic to those who experience bereavements to know exactly what was wanted in respect to funeral plans, arrangements around dying when you do go. We have all had those discussions about funeral arrangements in my family.

They are not easy discussions to have, sometimes I’m told that discussing my own death while I am healthy and in my 30s might be ‘tempting fate’ but in some ways, the greater the distance, the easier it is to make sure that my wishes are respected and we never know when the proverbial bus might hit.

As for bereavement, from my own experience, while you never forget those who you love, over time, the memories change from the most painful to the happier ones. As someone who has experienced bereavement for me, the important thing was that I didn’t feel rushed into ‘getting over it’ and that others acknowledged my losses.

I wasn’t ‘better’ after a couple of weeks, a couple of months, a couple of years or a couple of decades. I still cry sometimes. I am still not sure what might tip me off  but being able to talk about my feelings, my memories and my experiences really help. However I also know that not everyone experiences bereavement in the same way. Bereavement has many different paths and sometimes we don’t know when the most difficult times are going to come. Birthdays, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Christmas, Summer Bank Holidays – all of those times that can rekindle the pain of loss or the wistful memories.

I am pleased to see the ‘Dying Matters’ campaign running over this week and wholeheartedly recommend their website.

Dying is a life event that holds particular significance and fear because it is the ‘the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’ but that doesn’t mean we can’t leave those around us without knowing what we want and how we want to be seen on our way.

One of the many things I’ve learnt through my work too is that planning ahead in terms of advance directives and powers of attorney are invaluable for the practical decisions that need to be taken in advance and really do help the family around to make decisions and have access to finances when necessary. It isn’t always ‘nice’ to talk about but having seen the difficulties which come up when these things haven’t been discussed in advance, I can only try and say it’s worth a difficult conversation or two. Honestly.

These are things  we can each think about and start planning for today.

3 thoughts on “Talking about Death

  1. Sudden death devastates, leaving little available in anticipatory planning.
    A starting point can be a will and leave instruction outlining our wishes, including items like organ donation, but these are things which require regular updating as we change. Even organised planning does little to prepare for sudden death and or untimely death.
    In truth serious preparations for death are galvanised by ill health or encroaching frailty.

  2. It’s time the terminally ill and ailing elderly were encouraged to have a death plan, rather as mums-to-be have birth plans. My Last Song is a website that encourages people to plan for a good death. It has a death plan template that enables the patient, their loved ones, their doctors, their carers and if appropriate a minister of religion to discuss death and dying to make the death as comfortable and comforting as possible. The plan covers medical, physical, spiritual and practical issues.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I agree re: sudden death. I think we need to talk about and think about death when it isn’t necessarily looming. And death plans are necessary but for everyone and before being ‘terminally ill’ if at all possible.

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