by Mary Waters
It is heart-breaking to read of children, or parents, who are dying and write books, make plans and share their fears, hopes and wishes with the world. However, it is also sensible and something we should all embrace.
When my father was dying one of the things I remember worrying about was the fact that he knew he was dying; that he would have to face up to the truth that he was not immortal and that he would die, soon. Now, I look back and realise that he was 84 years old, he must have thought about it, known he couldn’t live forever. Perhaps my worries were more about me; I was sure he would live forever and couldn’t imagine a life without him. It was me who had to face facts. I had never talked to him about it, apart from a jocular, “Spend your money on a holiday, we’ll have a pyre in the back garden if we’re broke,” when he had mentioned he kept money for his funeral in a bank account.
Whilst googling last week I accidentally found a website, www.dyingmatters.org and discovered that this is run by a coalition, ‘to promote public awareness of dying, death and bereavement.’ At first, like many people, I suspect, I shuddered and nearly ignored it but soon realised that what they are doing is good. Planning for death is not just for people who know they are nearing the end; it is for all of us.
Some of the key facts they highlight are that ‘ 81% of people have not written down any preferences around their own death, and only a quarter of men (25%) and just over one in three women (35%) across England have told anyone about the funeral arrangements they would like to have after they die.’
I am one of that 81% and, also, one of the one in three women who has told no-one about my funeral arrangements. It is now occurring to me that I am being a bit selfish.
Well, one of the problems we faced when dad died was that we knew what we would want at the funeral but would he have wanted that? Had we known previously then things would have been a lot easier, at a time when you really don’t want to make too many decisions.
Had we discussed this with dad previously I think we could have really celebrated his life in a way he would have loved. As it was, we had a lovely ceremony but the pride we could have had in ensuring his wishes had been followed would have made it better. It’s a bit like the tenderness and closeness you build when you help with elderly parents’ care and washing, I suppose.
Difficult one this. On the one hand you don’t want people to think you are trying to tell them you, or they, are secretly really ill but you also don’t want to upset them. People usually change the subject or say things like, “you’ve years to go before you worry about that,” and so it won’t be easy. There may even be tears. When I joked with my dad about the funds he had I now see I should have used the joke as an inroad to a deeper, more practical conversation but I was scared. Talking about it will not make it happen sooner and, let’s face it; we will all die one day. We are all so worried about talking about death that there are over 200 euphemisms for death in our language, some are jocular of course, ‘kicked the bucket’, ‘popped his clogs’ and ‘pushing up daisies’, for example but people rarely say that someone died. They have often just ‘passed’.
Some interesting facts about death: