Should the fact that people are reluctant to talk about death deter us from starting the conversation, particularly if we are the person close to dying? It is important to take responsibility for having discussions with those who will be involved with our care as this gives them permission to talk about it with us and ensures that we are guiding the process wherever possible.
There is a process to death and talking about it supports a way to feel completion for both the person dying and those who will miss and grieve the loss of their physical presence.
It can be very loving and freeing to talk about all that dying may entail. It is an equally significant event in people’s lives in precisely the same way as is birth.
The more a person who is aware that they are dying engages in the process of passing over and is able to let go of long held hurts and unresolved regrets, the deeper the possibility for healing. Death offers a true completion of a life and can bring humility and an opportunity to have a non-judgmental review of our patterns and behaviours made in this life, with a view to choosing more honestly and lovingly next time around.
It is often up to the person who is dying to start the conversation and to take the lead in deciding when and with whom they would like to talk about what they are feeling.
A simple and non-imposing way to open the conversation is by talking about the practicalities, such as how you would like to be cared for as you approach death and getting support with putting the necessary paperwork in place. This includes appointing someone as a guardian or nominating a person who can make decisions about your care should you no longer be in a position to make them for yourself. In most, if not all countries, there are various forms available for documenting your wishes – for example, in Australia and the UK .
Completing such forms with people you trust could prompt you to ponder and consider a range of matters including how you would like to be cared for and by whom, and your preferred medical care e.g. under what circumstances you would like life support to be withheld should this question ever arise.
You can also stipulate who you would like to see and when and where you would like to be when you die, e.g. at home, in hospital, a nursing home or other care facility. As a guide for those taking care of you, you can nominate your choice of music, food, books you may like to read or have read to you, complementary therapist offering hand or foot care, hairdresser, etc., as well as visits from representatives of any particular religion.
Remember, this is your process and you can be in the driver’s seat, hold the steering wheel of responsibility and choose what feels true for you.
You can be absolutely honest with family and carers on a daily basis about how you are feeling and what you want at any point in time. For example, with the increased awareness that comes with impending death, you may feel more deeply and observe that some of your visitors have a personal agenda which has nothing to do with truly caring for you. Others may come full of emotions, perhaps because they are reminded of their own mortality and or they regret that they have not been more loving with you during your life.
It is important that you have the space for your own healing and do not take on the emotions of others so that you can talk freely with those around you and not succumb to doing ‘what is expected by society’ but rather ‘what is true for you’. For example, just because a family member or acquaintance has travelled some distance to visit you, does not mean that you are obliged to see them.
Once the conversation is started around things that people are more comfortable talking about, such as the practicalities, then it is easier to open the conversation into other aspects such as what you are feeling and going through.
Healing can only occur if everyone is very honest and family and friends accept that while they may be caught up in different emotions, at the end of the day, or more accurately, at the end of a life, they are there to provide support. It is therefore for family and friends to inform themselves on both the process of dying and what constitutes true care and to be guided by you.
All those around a person who is dying have the honour and responsibility to offer love and support and to take full advantage of all that is available at this very special and sensitive transitional stage of life.
When all has been openly shared, instead of mourning a death, it is an opportunity to celebrate a life.
D&D Writing Team, UK & Australia