Death is all around us


May 19, 2014

David Gilman is partner in charge of Blacks Connect

If you ever watched the US television series Six Feet Under you’ll not only know quite a lot about life inside a funeral parlour but you’ll also be fully aware that, firstly, there are many ways in which people die, and secondly, death is a factor in every step of our lives.

We might not like to think about it but death’s inevitability means that even in the fullest flush of health we can never truly be confident about what life has in store for us. To misquote The Troggs (and to a lesser extent Wet Wet Wet) ‘Death is all around us’.

It would seem that despite the fact we all know how our own personal stories eventually end the whole topic of death is still one of the biggest taboo subjects around.

Indeed, research from the Dying Matters Coalition this very week reveals how little we want to talk and think about our own ‘passing’ and the impact this can have on our end of life preparations and the legacy (some might say ‘mess’) that many people in the UK end up leaving for their families after their death.

The survey revealed that of the 2,000 people polled only just over one-fifth (21%) have discussed their end of life wishes with anyone, while just a third had written a will and only 29% had told their nearest and dearest about their own funeral wishes.

Now, while I fully understand that some people might be of the opinion that once you’re dead it’s hardly going to matter to you what flowers you have on your coffin, leaving family and friends with these decisions can make the whole grieving and ‘sorting out the affairs’ process that much more difficult.

This is why having a, shall we say, ‘post-life’ plan in place to be followed by the relatives can make the whole process of an individual dying a little easier to cope with.

To my mind, given the potential consequences, for example, of someone dying intestate there is scope here for the government to introduce legal requirements that everyone over the age of 18 has to have a will which could also include such things as funeral wishes.

I suspect this would be a bridge too far for any government and, admittedly, might be difficult to police however I’m sure it would go a long way to ensuring not only that we all address these issues at least once in our lives but it might help break down the taboo nature of addressing one’s one death.

At the moment it would seem our inability to confront this issue is having a damaging effect – 51% of those polled had not even discussed their end of life wishes with their partner so how can others who are not so close to that person attempt to second-guess what they might want.

This is a particularly difficult question to address for those, for example, who succumb to dementia-related illnesses later in life. Individuals’ ability to make decisions for themselves will be clearly impaired and it will be left to family and friends to try to forge a path about how that person might want to live the rest of their life.

At the very least if this had been discussed earlier with a loved one, or even better, if there was written documentation of how the individual wanted to be cared for then it makes everyone’s lives easier.

This could be done in the form of a ‘Living Will’ type document which again could be updated as changing circumstances dictate and would provide something of a foundation to move forward should life deal you a particular set of cards.

No-one is suggesting that one’s own death, or the worst possible things that could happen to us later in life, are ever going to be the most popular topics for discussion around the family home. However, having such conversations and setting out some simple plans should make all our lives (and deaths) a little bit easier.

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