Let's talk about dying
Why do we need to talk more about death and dying? Talking about death and dying doesn't bring death closer. It's about planning for life, helping us make the most of the time that we have.
However, starting the conversation, particularly with those close to you, is never easy. We don't want to upset people, or sound gloomy. Still, families commonly report that it comes as a relief once the subject is brought out into the open.
You are able to express your wishes about how you'd like to die, or what you'd like to happen after you die. This helps you and your loved ones to cope better emotionally and practically with what your death could mean.
Subjects you might need to talk about
- The type of care you'd like towards the end of your life;
- Where you'd like to die;
- How long you want doctors to be treating you;
- Funeral arrangements;
- Your will;
- Care of dependents - children or parents, for example;
- Organ donation;
- How you'd like to be remembered;
- Worries you'd like to discuss about being ill and dying;
- What you'd like people to know before you die;
- How you feel about people
Sowing the seeds for conversation
Choose the right place, the right time. No-one finds it easy to talk when they're rushed or in a stressful situation.
Look for a prompt that the other person is happy to talk about the future - discussing retirement plans might provide a good opportunity, for example. Or perhaps the recent death of someone close has raised issues in both your minds about your own deaths.
Directly starting a conversation
Consider beginning with a question rather than a statement: "Have you ever wondered what would happen...?"; "Do you think we should start talking about...?"
Or you could start with something direct but reassuring, like "I know that talking about these things is never easy..." or "We've never talked about this before but..."
If you're starting the conversation, you may need to reassure the other person that you're not raising the subject because you're very ill, and have been withholding the information from them.
Be totally honest about how you feel from the start. If you're open, there may be either laughter or tears - don't be afraid of either.
Listen to what the other person is saying, rather than always steering the conversation yourself. Don't feel the need to fill silences - leave room for the other person to bring up subjects that are important to them.
Bear in mind...
Remember that we are all dying, in one sense or another. Conversations can be held on an equal footing, with both participants talking about plans, fears and hopes for their own death and after.
If you're worried about getting it wrong with those you love, you can discuss it first with someone else you respect and trust - a nurse, friend or work colleague, for example.
We all worry about hurting people by talking openly. But it's generally true that in the long run, you hurt people more by the conversations you don't have, rather than the conversations you do have.
Sometimes talking about important subjects like this isn't a matter of having one 'cover all' conversation - it can be many small ones.
Why not try...
- Write a letter, explaining how you feel, and setting down the things you'd like to talk about;
- Give a present that has some emotional significance to you or the person you are giving it to, with a note explaining it, your feelings and wishes;
- Give someone a list of the things you've loved about your life, and the things you still want to do, along with a list of the things you want to get sorted out.
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COVID-19 is going to mean some people dying before their time, or some of us not being able to visit someone for a last time. It's going to affect us in ways we're only just starting to understand.
To acknowledge this, Dying Matters have launched the #BeforeTheirTime campaign. This is so people can share their experiences and talk through concerns in this difficult time.
As well as the hashtag, we will also be using the below image, which you can download if you wish at the bottom of the page. You can use the sunflower emoji on your phone if you are posting messages from there or want to send messages of solidarity. Please do follow along and contribute on social media.
We have produced a special graphic which you can use. Links to download them in various formats are below.
BEFORE THEIR TIME - .jpg
BEFORE THEIR TIME - .eps
BEFORE THEIR TIME - .png