Campaigns like ‘Slip Slop Slap’ and ‘Click Clack, Front and Back’ really raised awareness and opened conversations about sunscreen and seat belt safety.
If you took the advice, you were doing your best to avoid skin cancers and minimise injuries if involved in a car accident.
And yet, conversations around death and dying are still considered taboo by most people unless they’re confronted with their mortality through some unexpected
diagnosis or prognosis. Even then, some people find it very difficult to open the conversation to this complex topic.
Petrea King writes …
Most of us are too scared to contemplate our own mortality
We fear separation from our loved ones. We may fear God’s judgement or punishment, or the nothingness we think exists beyond this physical world. Some
people draw great strength from their faith believing they will be reunited with loved ones who’ve already died. The presence of death can make our
life deliciously precious and our relationships, wonderful treasures.
Education is power
Like sunscreen and seatbelts, death is an area of public health which we need to shed light on so that conversations can be had, and things can be attended
to in the best and most compassionate way possible. It can be a liberation to explore and reconcile ourselves with the finality of our own death.
With dementia on the rise …
It’s increasingly important for people to talk about their thoughts and wishes around death and dying sooner rather than later.
If we’re more comfortable to have conversations around death and dying collectively, then we can help each other find a way through.
To start the conversation, here are 5 practical questions to ask yourself
1. How is your our own health?
Are your health checks up to date? Regular health checks can help to identify early warning signs of disease or illness. Finding problems early means
that your chances for effective treatment are increased. Many factors, such as your age, health, family history and lifestyle choices, impact on
how often you need check-ups.
If you’re a carer for someone else or someone who is dying, you need to make sure you care for yourself first.
It’s difficult to discern what is helpful for another person if you’re feeling depleted, overwhelmed, exhausted or isolated. When you take self-care
seriously, you will bring your well-replenished self to the challenge, the crisis, the confusion, upset or chaos.
When you’re calm and refreshed you’re more likely to have access to your insight, wisdom, humour, spontaneity, creativity and compassion. These are invaluable
qualities to have when you’re going through an emotionally challenging time.
2. Are your legal and financial affairs in order?
If you want your family to clearly understand your wishes after you die, then take care of these 2 things while you’re alive. Make certain your financial
and legal affairs are in order and that practical details are easily accessible. Perhaps lodge them with your solicitor or let your family know where
important documents are kept. Check beneficiary designations on all your retirement plans, life insurance policies or superannuation.
You may have heard the expression, “Where there’s a Will, there’s a relative.” If you want to avoid family upsets or feuds after your death, ensure that
you have clearly stated your wishes. If there’s likely to be a conflict, then accompanying letters of explanation as to why you have made the decisions
you have (in your Will), can help to ensure that people will abide by your wishes.
If you have a concern about your long-term ability to make important decisions, you might want to consider giving one of your children or a trusted friend
your Power of Attorney. This can be discussed with your solicitor.
3. Conversations that need to be had – are your loved ones emotionally up to date?
As Maya Angelou said,
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When you’re dying, the last thing you may think about is how you make other people feel. However, the last memory of you is an important one that your
loved-ones will carry forever.
Tell your family and friends how much you love them or what their friendship means to you. Never save up, “I love you”. Speak it now, speak it regularly.
It’s good to have all your relationships up to date as we never know when death may come knocking.
You might like to share a video, record or write a story or letters to loved ones.
People tend to die in character. If they’ve always been emotionally demonstrative, then they probably won’t have any difficulty expressing their love for
their family and friends. They will probably feel quite comfortable having their loved-ones around them during the process of dying.
However, if people have always held their cards close to their chest, or they’ve never found expressing emotions to be easy, then they’re unlikely to change
just because they’re dying. People who have always dealt privately with intimate moments are very likely to die when you’re absent. Not everyone wants
their hand held as they leave this earth.
4. Do friends & family know your wishes for your possessions & funeral?
Since I was 5, I’ve known what my mother’s wishes are for the hymns she wants sung at her funeral along with other details for the service. She had everything
neatly written out in an envelope which hung on a nail in the broom cupboard. From time to time she’d remind us that her wishes were all articulated
and available in the broom closet!
In my grandmother’s home, underneath every ornament, piece of furniture, painting on the wall or other treasure, my grandmother had written someone’s name
with sticky tape over it, to keep it in place.
As a child, this conveyed to me a sense of ease around death. Occasionally I’d peep under objects to see who the ultimate recipient of my grandmother’s
thoughtfulness would be. My beloved grandmother considered who would enjoy her things once she was dead and had made her deliberations known. I imagine
it gave her some pleasure to know that her things would be treasured by those of us left bereft of her physical presence.
Now, 60 years later, some of the labels with her handwriting can still be found on ornaments and furniture in my home. I too have started the practice
of labelling things I think my children or grandchildren will enjoy when I’m gone.
A long time ago, I witnessed a terrible feud which left two sisters estranged for years, all over a cracked egg cup their mother had loved. People invest
memories into objects. By making your wishes known, you may alleviate unnecessary arguments or resentments for the people you leave behind.
5. Do you feel connected to others?
Human beings are social creatures. We’re woven into the fabric of our family, our friends, community, workplace, team or interest group. Having friends
you can call on to support and assist you when you’re ill is a wonderful blessing. Not everyone has a reliable network of social supports. We know
that loneliness is becoming an epidemic in Western societies where more and more people are living solitary lives.
You might like to explore your thoughts and feelings about death, dying, illness and grief with other people courageous enough to have the conversation.
This can be a good beginning in finding like-minded people with whom you can share a little of yourself, your thoughts and beliefs.
Having the courage to confront death
When we have the courage to confront our death, it leaves us free to fully embrace life to consider and plan, as the story of Claire illustrates.
Many years ago, Claire a young mother, was told that her death from cancer was on the near horizon. Claire was a carpenter and a regular member of our
programs at Quest. It took a great deal of courage for Claire to reconcile herself with her mortality, to rail at its inexorable grip and the seeming
impossibility of such a thing happening when she had a young daughter to raise.
It shrieks at us as parents, when we know we have to abandon our children for other people to love and raise.
Claire embraced this challenge with courage and determination to leave her young daughter with something meaningful and decided to build her a dolls house.
Into sliding walls, drawers and cupboards, Claire secreted dozens of tiny scrolls with her favourite poetry, her preferred foods and colours and a
host of memories for Sophia to discover as she grew older.
Knowing Sophia would only have faint memories of her, Claire wrote to her daughter many treasured things about her life, what she loved and valued. This
became a living legacy for young Sophia to discover. In this way, Claire ensured that her daughter would have a sense of who she was and what was so
special about her.
Bringing to life conversations around death
Quest for Life is helping to bring to life conversations around death, dying and bereavement. We are holding Dying to Know weekend workshops with a panel
of experts in this area and a creative writing workshop on 11 & 12 August 2018.