I struggle to face my own mortality. Working on a project that encourages people to talk about death and dying, it’s pretty ironic that I find it difficult to do just that. But I’ve discovered I’m not alone. At a recent workshop, with a number of palliative and end of life colleagues, several of us admitted that we hadn’t had ‘the conversation’ or ‘made plans’.
As human beings we are hard-wired to avoid discomfort even if it means denying our fate. The power of denial should not be under-estimated, it can block out the pain of walking on hot coals but stand on those coals long enough and your feet will burn. I can’t avoid the reality that I am getting older. Who knows if I will get sick, I might find a lump; or I might be in the wrong place at the wrong time tomorrow when crossing the road.
It is said that to grow as people we need to put ourselves outside our comfort zone and embrace challenges. The challenging situation is not having the conversation about dying or making the plans about your death; the real challenge is to face serious illness or death without talking about it before it happens. Facing challenges requires courage and emotion so that we take action. Sometimes the emotion is anger, fear, a sense of injustice or love.
Talking with people who have made plans about death and dying, ‘love’ for their partner, children and family was the motivator. They didn’t want them to suffer unnecessarily. Making plans and decisions about the future reduced the burden on the people they loved.
In a recent interview with Mary, ‘love’ was the reason her father and husband made their plans. She described the tender conversations, the tough decisions and the tears that they shared. Having had this experience Mary knows how important it is to talk about dying; by talking about it loved ones know your choices and can support you in these when times get really difficult. That is why she has spoken to her family about her wishes and planned for the time when she will die.
Mary has had the courage to do this out of love for those who she will leave behind. Mary knows that her death will make her family sad, she will be gone and they will grieve her loss. She loves them so much that her last wish is to help her family through their bereavement.
And so, I think I have found my courage. I love my husband and two daughters so much that the next time I pull out ‘Your Life, Your Choice’ booklet I will put my love for them before my fear of dying.
Click here to read Mary’s Story.