Death – are we ready?
You’ve probably noticed recently that death as a theme has started to feature more in my blog and social media. I guess that was inevitable now that I’m working as a funeral pastor. However, it’s also because death is a topic that’s not always talked about openly and I’m super passionate about creating space for honest conversations on exactly those kind of topics!
Inspired by Dying Matters, whose aim is to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement and to make plans for the end of life, this post ponders the question, ‘are we ready?’
‘Are we ready?‘
Am I ready?
I don’t know about you but when it comes to thinking about being ready to die I tend to imagine myself as a very old lady in a bed, feeling like I’ve had all the conversations I need to have and that all the plans that need to be are in place. I like to imagine that I am ready ‘to go’.
But, the reality is that we don’t know how we’re going to die. And because of that I think it can cause there to be lot of fear surrounding the topic of death.
My granny did die in that way. My Mum and I were sat with her in the hospital. She’d been poorly for a while and she felt ready to die. I held her hand as she stopped breathing and it was incredibly powerful. However, although that moment was beautiful for us, she did spend a few months in hospital feeling ‘ready’ and frustrated that she hadn’t yet died. For her, I imagine it may have felt more like relief that it was finally happening!
I have taken funerals for older people who died peacefully in their sleep but I have also taken funerals for people who died younger and much more unexpectedly. Cancer being the cause of a high percentage of those.
I think we often think about being ready in that moment just before we die rather than whether we are ready before that moment. It’s not just about that moment, because we really can have no idea what that’s going to look like. We can’t plan for that moment.
But, how can we be ready if we have no idea what the end of our life will we look like?
Part of exploring this question isn’t about trying to imagine that moment but instead learning to be ok with not knowing. I have always struggled with the unknown. I am naturally a planner who likes to make sure I have everything covered. I have learned however that even when I can’t plan for everything, I can still plan and choose to be ok with the unknown elements. Because, there’s nothing I can do about them.
Pete and I recently completed our wills, and sorted out life insurance. I’ll be honest, we don’t have much to leave (hopefully by the time we die we will!) but we did want to make it clear what our plans were. It was really easy to keep putting it off as another job we’d get around to eventually but I’m realising more and more that the less ready I am for death the harder it will be for those I leave behind. The practical planning really isn’t actually about us. A will makes things easier. Although they can still be contested and things can get complicated (sadly I’ve heard many stories), they do help bring clarity about what our wishes were, particularly if we didn’t get to talk about those before we died.
I keep joking with Pete that I intend to plan a very elaborate and entertaining funeral before I die. In reality I won’t be so mean but I probably will make a note somewhere about what my favourite songs are, or if I discover a favourite poem or reading sometime soon. And, Pete knows that I want to be cremated (as do you all now!)
In my role as a funeral pastor my aim is always to make putting the funeral service together as simple and stress-free as possible. I’ve done a few recently where the person who’d died had planned most of the elements already which did make things easier but then I also did one where the person had made plans but this caused lots of upset. I think the reality is that whatever we do to get ready we can never know in advance how people are going to handle grief. We can’t plan for how people are going to react.
As a Mum, I see one of my biggest responsibilities as preparing my kids for challenges and teaching them to be as emotionally intelligent as I possibly can. I talk about this being for when they go out into the world but it does also apply to if I died and they could no longer come to me.
This whole topic may seem morbid and it’s hard to think about our kids not being with us. My Mum has equipped me incredibly well to be emotionally resilient and to handle any challenge thrown at me but just the thought of having to face any challenge without her at the end of the phone breaks my heart.
We don’t need to be afraid of death, dying and bereavement. The harsh reality is that we will all face them at some point in our lives and I want to help equip my family for when that day comes. It can be hard to have this conversation without beginning to feel fearful but I think the more normal it becomes to talk about it, the less fear has any power.
So, am I ready?
I hope that I have a long and happy life ahead of me. However, I also feel great peace that I have made the plans I need to in order to look after my family practically should something happen to me. And, everyday I am working to help my kids learn to talk openly about death so that when they come to face death, dying or bereavement they won’t be afraid to be honest and vulnerable about how they feel. In our house, part of being ‘ready’ is constantly creating a safe space to talk about anything and everything so that we have opportunity to ponder and ask questions when we think them rather than suddenly facing crisis. I think that being ready doesn’t mean that death, dying and bereavement are suddenly easy. It just means they aren’t taboo.
Are you ready?
I’d love to know your thoughts. What are the questions you want to ask about death, dying and bereavement but haven’t felt brave enough to ask? What would the conversation look like if you were completely open and honest?