Monday 9 May marked the start of Dying Matters Awareness Week during which time we are encouraged to talk about death and dying, not in a morbid but in a constructive way.
The hashtag #BigConversation has been used to instigate discussions around our last wishes as we face death, specially about how we want to die and what we want to happen when we are dying. This includes, amongst other things, whether we want to die at home, in hospital or in a hospice, what kind of treatment we would allow or refuse as we approach death, and how we want to be remembered.
Whilst all of these issues might sound scary, morbid and downright sordid to some, my experience of seeing my beloved husband dying has taught me that these conversations are better had when we are not in pain or suffering, when we are able to clearly express our preferences and when we are not vulnerable. It also allows time for reasoning, explanations and acceptance, all of which are difficult to attain when we’re reaching our last days and hours of life.
After my husband died I found a folder with neat writing on it which read “FUNERAL” and I thought “great, he has left it all organised, nothing to worry about!” Little did I know it was just a smoke screen; on opening the said folder I found:
- A newspaper cutting of an article decrying the extortionate costs of funerals
- The name of two hymns written on the back of an envelope, and
- An email, dated exactly one year before his death, confirming that our priest of 12 years would be happy to conduct “the funeral”
And that was it!
I knew, from his will, he wished his body to be cremated. Other than that nothing, zilch, niente, nada.
You see, my husband did not speak of his imminent death, even though we had known for more than a year that the cancer no longer responded to treatment. He he did not allow the conversation to take place. It was too much for him. I can only speculate his reasons, he never said why.
This silence meant for us a prolonged suffering, a wanting to speak up but never feeling that we were allowed to. Not having those conversations means that at times I feel rudderless specially when trying to guide our children through life. I often attempted to ask him how he would have wanted me to, for example, advise our children on relationships, money, buying their first car, etc. only for the subject to swiftly switch to football or rugby or whatever other sporting event was his latest preoccupation.
For our children the silence now means a lot of questions which will remain unanswered, this makes their and my grieving so much more difficult. I am always mindful of honouring his memory and constantly looking for opportunities to put together a legacy to give to our children to hold on to. I am only hoping that it is just what he would have wanted.
So if there’s one thing I wish for you readers, is that you make time to talk with your nearest and dearest about dying matters, if not to ensure that your wishes are carried out and respected, then to save your loved ones the anguish of second-guessing what your wishes are.