The Conversation- How to talk about your wishes when it comes to death and dying.

In our society we often disassociate with death, treating it with a separateness from being alive, when in fact death is part of life.

We are all going to die. That’s a statistic we can’t change. Yet many people don’t want to talk about death and dying and few plan for it.

We plan for births, weddings, holidays, what car we want to buy, what suburb we want to live in, what house we will live in… Yet few of us plan, prepare or talk about what we value most and what our wishes are if we are dying or after we are dead.

Often, when we do pluck up the courage to discuss our death, family and loved ones are uncomfortable being confronted with the concept of our mortality and we can often be perceived as being “morbid” or even “negative”. However, having a conversation around what your wishes are when it comes to your death can be a very positive experience. It can often lead to a sense of closeness and understanding.

When you do have these conversations and put your affairs in order, there is often a great “sense of relief” and satisfaction that you have been able to share this important information; and a recognition that by doing this you hopefully will reduce some of the burden of decision-making for those you love in the event that decisions have to be made on your behalf due to illness, accident or death.

Furthermore, (and perhaps most importantly), confronting mortality head on often leads us to an awareness of just how sacred life really is. Understanding that our time on Earth is limited brings more meaning to even the most mundane, everyday experiences.

So how do we broach the subject of death, dying and mortality in a positive way?

The answer is, there is no wrong way to do it.

Every person is completely individual. Your spiritual beliefs and practices, your family dynamics, your financial situations, the timing of the discussion and many more factors all play a part in how one will go about having this discussion.

However, there are a few things that universally, may help the process go more smoothly.

  • Have the conversation with yourself first. Take some time to fully consider what you may like to experience in your final moments, and even in the unfortunate event that you require long term care (such as severe illness, injury or age). Go to a nursing home and have conversations with elderly people if you can. Take some time to fully understand what being in care (and in various stages of care) might be like.

Take time to consider your spiritual beliefs. Are your beliefs inherited? If so, do you truly believe them or do you have some ideas of your own? Consult with different spiritual leaders if you feel inclined. Remember, this is a highly personal thing, there is no prescription.

Take time to consider all the different post-mortem care options available to you. What would most suit your desires? What impact will your choices have on those left behind? Is environmental impact of concern to you?

There are so many options available now. No longer do we need to go to an old-fashioned funeral director and have a cookie cutter funeral. Funerals are so varied and individual now. Make sure the funeral you choose is YOUR choice, not something prescribed to you.

The point here is, really take time to fish out what YOU want before speaking about it with family and loved ones. This way, you have a plan in place that you are sure you want, which makes it easier for the conversation to flow.

  • Decide if you want to have the conversation with people individually, or, with everyone together. Again, this will entirely depend on the dynamics of your family. You could even make a video outlining your wishes if you don’t want to have the conversation face to face.
  • Ensure a trusted person or paid solicitor knows your wishes. Someone that you know for 100% certain will carry out your wishes and desires. This person forms part of your advocacy group which is solely designed to ensure your wishes are honoured.  It’s also important to have your desires set out in a will as well as a document called a “living will”.  “living will” is like an advanced health care directive, only you have it written up pre-emptively. It’s a document outlining how you would like to be cared for “in the event of….”
  • Stand your ground! This is one of the most important parts. Remember, you only get one chance to die and your wishes and desires should be honoured. It’s your choice and yours alone. You absolutely should consider how your decisions effect those who are left behind, but at the end of the day, even in death, it’s your body and only you get to decide what happens to it.

At the end of the day, the closing ceremony of our life is one of the two most significant events of our life (next to birth) and if we can take part in the planning of this event, it can bring even more significance and meaning for those who cherish us. Knowing that this event was carried out “just the way they wanted it” allows for meaning and even joy during a time of mourning.

“Even death is just a birthright” – Mayestra.

For information about different styles of post mortem care, visit the Natural Death Advocacy Network here

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