“With all our twenty-first-century sophistication, why do we still opt to take cover behind familiar, safe walls of conformity and denial, rather than opening up to the idea that maybe death is not the demon we fear? She does not need to be lurid, brutal or rude. She can be silent, peaceful and merciful. Perhaps the answer is we don’t trust her because we don’t choose to get to know her, to take the trouble to in the course of our lives to try to understand her. If we did, we might learn to acccept her as an integral and fundamentally necessary part of our life’s process.”
― Professor Dame Sue Black, All That Remains: A Life in Death
I am into death. I aim to get to know her as intimately as possible and be prepared for whenever she chooses to step across my threshold – for she will. And I want you to feel the same.
No, I don’t want us to start a club where we all wear black exclusively, study gothic makeup and spew morbid quotes about life. I want to make death a natural, acceptable and practical part of your life.
Why? you ask. Because in facing death and all your fears around it, you can live more freely. How? By preparing for death while nobody is dying.
Most of us live in denial of death. It is something that will happen far in the future and we tell ourselves we’ll deal with it when it happens. I am here to tell you that if you follow this strategy, three things will happen: 1. Death WILL come a’ knocking and either take someone you love or take you from your loved ones, 2. Nobody will be prepared for this, and 3. Grieving will be extremely difficult for everybody involved, and practical chaos of the legal kind could ensue.
The fact is that death can happen at any moment to anyone. If you were born, you have to die. It is not enough to simply have the will that you’ve had to hastily compile when you took out life insurance five or ten years ago. Chances are some of the people and/or things in that will are no longer even in your life. Being prepared for death does not mean you are beckoning the demise of a loved one to come quicker. It simply means knowing all your loved ones’ final wishes for a good death, leaving a loving legacy and peaceful distribution of their belongings.
What is a good death?
A good death to me would be to die knowing that:
- Everybody I’ve loved in my life knew exactly how much they meant to me;
- I have created an advanced directive encompassing all areas of my life, so that there are no doubts as to what I wanted to happen when my presence leaves this world;
- My estate and legal matters are in order and I’ve left no sticky legal situations for grieving loved ones to sort out; and
- I’ve left a legacy of love and good memories, and spent time to create personal memories with each important person in my life.
And these are actually practical attainable goals for everybody. You don’t have to be rich to have a well-written will or spend thousands to create lasting memories. It all begins with one simple conversation.
Having THE Conversation
Even if you’ve never made a formal appointment with your family in your life, you should do it for this – if only so that everybody can understand that it is serious and important. Below is a simple list of steps to follow.
- Identify an hour in your week where the whole family can get together peacefully, such as a Saturday morning after breakfast. Make sure everybody knows that this specific date is non-negotiable and that they cannot be excused from it.
- Set everybody at ease. Make it clear that nobody has had a scary diagnosis, and that’s exactly why this is a good time to be talking about these things.
- Start an informal discussion about how you would like to leave your family behind should you be the first to die. Stress matters like whether you want to be cremated or buried, your position on organ donation, the heirlooms you’d like to leave each person, the memories you want to make before you die, dreams you still have etc.
- Now ask each family member to create two lists. One will contain all their wishes for the end of their life and the other all their fears.
- Give everybody a day or two to think and ask them to make their lists as comprehensive as possible. Think about things such as how you’d like your family to close off your social media profiles, messages you’d like to send to charities that you’ve supported, making arrangements for small children and pets to be taken care of after your death.
- Set a follow-up date so that you can talk through everybody’s lists.
- Next you will deal with the legal set-up of your directives, and I will tell you how to do this in the next chapter of our journey.
Of course it is never too late to follow this process and you can do it even after a loved one has received a life-limiting diagnosis or if you are approaching an advanced birthday and you want to address unresolved matters in your life.
Coming up next: How to set up your advanced directives and start addressing your fears around death.
Until then – Live as if you’ll die tomorrow
Alida Pretorius – End of Life Doula
082 537 3695
In collaboration with Sungardens Hospice: Pretoria & Mamelodi.