When a close relative was diagnosed with a terminal illness for some time we talked a lot about the illness, but not about death or dying. Whenever the ‘d’ word was mentioned it was ushered away, hushed, and left as an ‘elephant in the room’. This attitude toward death is all too prevalent in today’s society.
In their survey, ComRes found that more than two-thirds of the population believe people in the UK feel too uncomfortable about death and dying to plan properly leaving their personal affairs in a mess, with no wishes or preferences stated about end of life care, or their will, their preferred funeral and what to do with their belongings once they die. Some adults also feel unable to talk with their own family members about death and dying. One of the consequences of this is the confusion, and hard work that friends and relatives are then left with if there has been no clarity or preparedness for death.
Sometimes for some relatives it can take years to tidy up and complete someone’s personal affairs after they have died.
This is interesting in that one thing is for sure, we will all die and there is no doubt about that amongst us. Yet, with that level of absolute surety, it is a topic that many possibly don't discuss regularly or maybe not even at all.
As for my close relative, one day she called a family meeting and shared with us all her thinking about death and dying, and that she had planned and prepared everything – from the funeral details, to where her belongings would go, to the final weeks and the ‘bucket list’ of things that she still wanted to complete. From this moment, the whole family was able to work together to support and openly raise questions for further consideration. We were also able to sit with her and talk about many things in her life, and in preparation for the end of her life without the ‘elephant in the room’ in a more relaxed way. As the weeks went on the ‘bucket list’ was fulfilled, and everything was well prepared, to the point that one day, the time had come for the end of her life. With the support of local health services this was also beautifully prepared and completed, taking into account my relative’s choices right up until the end.
After her death, as a family having had so much clarity in previous weeks, we were able to work together simply and dedicatedly to complete the last phase of this relative’s life, the funeral, tying up loose ends and the gentle clearing away of belongings of the life that had ended.
The last phase of her life flowed really smoothly and felt deeply honouring to her and to everyone in the family in the way it was undertaken.
What struck me most about this was not just that in the openness and honesty around the dying phase that there was then a natural flow and order of things. My relative, and us as a family, were able to flow with that without any unnecessary fuss or upheaval.
What also struck me was if we all talked about these things far earlier in our lives, then the need to fit all those conversations in at the end of life would be lessened. Isn’t this a far better way to have discussed these things? Should it be that there is a sudden death, there is no opportunity to plan and prepare as was the case in my relative’s death.
What then if we put death and dying onto our school curriculums, university studies, and vocational work based training, as well as making the topic of death and dying a normal conversation in our homes, workplaces and in life?
Not only could it offer a far less intense time when a relative dies, in regards to the organising, and dealing with end of life/death personal affairs and practicalities, it could mean that all of us, knowing that death is a phase in the cycle of our lives would take a deeper responsibility for the ‘trail’ or ‘legacy’ of our life as it unfolded. So, when we do die, this life for us is complete and there are no secrets, surprises, or avoidable loose ends that need to be attended to by our family members or friends. More so, in leaving no stone unturned and realising that it is as normal to talk about death as it is to talk about birth, together we all learn and deepen our understanding of these daily living matters.
Jane K., UK