There are millions of things we can fill our minds with, and this doesn’t always come readily to mind, but sometimes thinking and talking about death is healthy.
Death is like a work or study deadline – something that empowers us to make sure we do everything we want and need to do before it is too late. It’s something that we should embrace as part of life to remind us that every day counts.
I was not always comfortable talking about death with clients; however, over time I have realised that until we understand and digest that one day we will die, we can’t completely embrace life.
Now at Magenta we talk to clients openly about what they want to achieve before their time is up; what they DON’T want to do; how they want to be remembered and who they want to leave their stuff to.
We even have great resources in the form of the Magenta Manual to help them and their loved ones to formulate some plans for THE END.
To us, it may seem that the Victorians were obsessed with death. The era saw the rise of suburban cemeteries, huge interest in funerals, mourning dress and mementoes of the dead. But in those days, death was part of everyday life – it was frequently discussed within families, even with small children and broadly everyone knew that it was just part of the cycle.
Today though it has become an uncomfortable subject, and one we often avoid within families so as to not cause upset or worry. But is this the best way?
We think not! We think that talking about death with people of all ages and abilities makes it more normal and less upsetting in the end. When death comes as a shock – as it sadly has to so many during the pandemic – it is hard to deal with and often throws people into a panic about what to do next.
It is important to talk.
When someone is seriously ill or injured, especially if it happens suddenly, everyone around them is upset and stressed. That is not a good recipe for calm, rational decision-making. If you have discussed your wishes beforehand and talked about them with your loved ones—or even made decisions together about what you would like to happen—it is much easier for everyone.
We all want to think that we are immortal—or at least that we are going to live a long time. The reality is, however, that we are all going to die, and it could be sooner than you think. Life expectancy is much longer than it was in Victorian times, but you could have a car accident, be run over, or be diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow. If you are unconscious, your relatives will not know your wishes unless you have discussed them beforehand
Why should we talk about dying?
Katherine Sleeman, Palliative Medicine Registrar at the Cicely Saunders Institute, believes that ending the silence about death will diminish its terrors and lead to a new focus on improving the quality of life of dying patients.
She says: “We prepare about the arrival of a new baby, we plan for it, we think about what we are going to buy and what we are going to call the new baby. It is part of our daily life, our conversation. Why do we not prepare for our death in the same way? I would like everyone to have a good death, but we can’t achieve that unless we as a society stop whispering and start talking about it.”
Talking to Children
Often people think children and those with mental illness or disability will be too sad; confused; frightened and angry to talk about death.
Consequently, no one tells them about death until someone dies – this can be terribly upsetting and shocking.
But in talking about it openly, it can help family and friends to know what is going to happen at some point and what you want to happen when you are ill or when you die.
But also, open discussion means your family and friends can tell you what they want to happen when they are sick or dying. This open dialogue can only be for the best so that everyone knows how others feel and what is important to them.
I believe this is especially important if death is imminent due to illness or very old age – it helps people to know that they can say things before it is too late, to share memories and to make gifts etc. We all know someone who wishes they could bring someone back to tell them something!
But for younger/healthy people, it can be a fun, interesting and stimulating conversation which normalises death and cuts through the taboo.
Unfortunately, many people suffer with a long-term illness or infirmity before they die. For these people it is even more important that they have a frank conversation with their loved ones and their medical advisers about the kind of care and medical intervention they do and don’t want.
Handled sensitively, these conversations can bring great comfort for everyone involved and can ensure that practical matters have been discussed too. For example, my daughters know that if ever I am too far gone to know my own mind, they can put me on a one-way flight to Switzerland – my eldest daughter says she has already bought the ticket!
Talking about death also gives us the opportunity to properly prepare; get our affairs in order and share our plans with loved ones before it is too late.
Making a Will is a simple but important way of distributing your assets to the people you want it to go to. Talking about the Will and death at the same time, clarifies your intentions and removes the possibility of nasty surprises once you have gone.
I have had many conversations with people about funeral arrangements and after death parties and celebrations – most of these have been very positive and focus on being remembered well. Some have been an absolute hoot, with the person whose death we are discussing, coming up with all sorts of wacky ideas for a fabulous send off!
The BIG Deal
The main thing about death is its inevitability for us all, but the uncertainty about when it will happen makes it a tricky business.
This means that we must live every day as if it were our last and make the most of our time doing things that bring us joy.
If you need some help focusing on your life goals before the big day or arranging some practical legal matters – contact Magenta for a confidential and friendly chat.