I’m not big on awareness weeks, but when I saw this one, I just knew that I had to get my thoughts together for it, as it’s so important.
Set up by the National Council for Palliative Care, Dying Matters ‘aims to raise public awareness about the importance of talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and of making your wishes known’.
I’ve spent a lot of my life – and there’s been 38 of them so far – thinking about death, dying and what it means.
It’s not that I’m a particularly morbid person but I was faced with my mother’s death when I was just 16, and then my father’s when I was 28. Death has touched me, and I think about it regularly.
I believe that we all should all think about death whether it has touched us directly or not.
I make so many Memory Cushions for people who have been recently touched by death, and with every cushion, I tenderly imagine the life that was lead wearing the clothes that I am now transforming. Each one is special, beautiful and it’s an honour to be able to use my craft to bring comfort to those left behind.
It’s said that death and taxes are the only things that we can be sure about, but they are the thing that we understand the least and fear to talk about the most.
I’m not going to talk about taxes here, but I am going to talk about death.
ComRes research from 2018 has some worrying statistics including:
Just 35% of adults have made a will
Just 30% of adults have let someone know their funeral wishes
Just 7% had written down wishes or preferences about the care they would want if they couldn’t make decisions
Just 25% had asked a family member about their end of life wishes
Just 33% had registered to be an organ donor
When it comes to making a will, you’d think that we’d all have that covered, right? Even those who think about death a lot – as I do? Wrong! I do have a will, but it’s not signed. Why? Because I ‘haven’t got round to it’. It’s easy if either myself or my husband die individually, but what if we both die in a car crash? What then? Who looks after our daughter? We have this all written down, and all our family knows what our wishes are. But we haven’t signed that piece of paper yet. I’m not sure if that’s because there’s underlying fear or superstition about signing or if it truly is because we keep forgetting.
But I can tell you one thing for sure – it’ll be signed by the end of the week.
As parents, it’s essential to make plans for what happens to our children if we die, especially if they are young.
It’s horrendous to think about, and there’s never a good time to talk about it. But when it’s too late to talk about, then it’s too late.
The last thing I want – if the worst happens – is my family worrying about what I wanted or where my daughter is to go and live. They need to know. We all need to know.
I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’d like to be buried under a tree. I haven’t chosen my spot yet, but I am investigating non-religious ‘graveyards’ where they guarantee to preserve the woodland that you are planted in. I haven’t found one close enough to where we live, so haven’t yet made my choice. I’m pretty against being cremated. It doesn’t make any sense as my body won’t be of any use what-so-ever, but the idea creeps me out. Ridiculous, but true. But at least everyone KNOWS that.
And what about palliative care if I should ever need it and not be able to make decisions?
Again, I think about death a lot, but I rarely think about my end of life journey. That part of it seems much more terrifying than what comes after and therefore harder to think or talk about.
It’s not an easy topic to bring up, even for those of us that think about these things regularly.
But why don’t we talk about death?
There should be no shame surrounding it. It is a natural part of life that none of us can escape from. Most of us want to die peacefully in our sleep when we are incredibly old. But that’s not the case for so many people, and by failing to talk about our deaths as part of the general tide of conversation, we fail to live up to the expectations of our end of life care.
If we want to die peacefully in our sleep, then we probably don’t want to be resuscitated ‘no matter what’. Or do we? That’s the thing; we don’t know because we don’t want to think about it, let alone talk about it.
If we don’t know, then how can we possibly hope for our families to make the best decision for us in a traumatic and emotional situation? Have you asked your family what they’d like to happen? Do you know? Do they know? I want to make those decisions as easy as possible for my family if it ever comes to it.
By 2020 you will have to opt out of being an organ donor, but before it becomes automatic to donate your organs, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re signed up to the register so that you can make sure your body is put to good use after your death.