None of us are getting out of here alive. So why is death so hard to talk about? It’s because it brings up hard emotions, says Valerie Smith of the Irish Hospice Foundation. “It can make us feel really uncomfortable. We are afraid of death, we can find talking about it feels unlucky. You hear that phrase, talking about death brings it closer, so there is a stigma around the conversation.”
It’s good talk
Not talking about the kind of death we want is a missed opportunity to direct the kind of life we want at all stages of our life. Talking about it can allay our fears, says Smith. “In Ireland, we say, ‘We do funerals great’, but we really need to practice the death and dying bit,” she says. “Death is part of all of our lives and studies show when we talk about it, it reduces anxiety, fear, stress and it reduces conflict at the end of our lives.”
Where do I start?
A great place to start is your best-case scenario. “You could say to yourself, ‘If everything went perfectly well, what would that look like for me’,” says Smith. “That’s like asking, ‘If I won the Lotto…’ If people know you want to be at home with your family around, they can work towards that.” Another route is to think about your own funeral, she says. “If you want something that’s unique or outside the box, you have to plan that. It can be fun to think about that.” Others will want to make sure that things are in place for their family.
Like everything, a conversation about death is best not left until the last minute. “It’s much easier to talk about end of life and death when it’s theoretical,” says Smith. “If we have received a diagnosis or we are facing something and we have never talked about death, it’s much harder to start. If you’ve already started the conversation, it can be easier to continue it.”
What about my cat?
Exactly. Unless you discuss and record your wishes, who knows what might happen to the cat. The Think Ahead planning pack can help you think about and document all your preferences. (It’s not just for those in hospice care.) For example, what way do you want to be cared for to meet your physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural and personal desires. You can record your requests and any refusals of healthcare treatments you might have. You can also appoint someone to speak on your behalf. You can record where important documents are stored too, says Smith. And even who you would like to look after your cat.
Don’t keep it to yourself
If you have specific wishes, tell someone. “Have a conversation with somebody close to you and with your healthcare team,” says Smith. “People can have differing opinions about what’s the best way to care for somebody, and that can bring up conflict at what is an already stressful time. We can relieve some of that suffering by telling people what we want.”
“If you know what your values are and what’s important to you at end of life, having those conversations means we can try to meet those values as best we can so that you can have what a ‘good death’ means to you.”