If you were told you only had a few weeks to live, would your family know what kind of funeral you want? Are you comfortable telling them what your final wishes are? In short, are you ready? Tying in with the theme of this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week we’re asking people whether they’ve made end of life plans. Here Tamsin Thomas, Head of PR and Communications at Cornwall Hospice Care reflects on the importance of talking about death with her daughters.
“Death is a part of life” was my 21-year-old daughter’s very matter of fact reply when I asked if we could talk about dying for a moment. Old age and all that comes with it is at the forefront of my mind as I watch my 92-year-old dad crumble at the edges. I just had to tell her and her sister not to be upset if in the future, I get tetchy or confused like dad does now, or to feel guilty if at some point they decide a nursing home would be the best place for me. I’ve learned that it does matter to talk about death and dying.
I’m bound to be more comfortable than others about facing this subject because I work for a fantastic hospice charity, but it was my late mum’s battle with secondary breast cancer that taught me the importance of talking things through.
One of the grim realities about this horrid disease was that we had time to talk on the numerous journeys to appointments. I was able to apologise for being a bitch of a teenager and she was able to offer words of parental guidance that weren’t thrown back at her. We talked about her faith that gave her an inner peace about dying and about what she wanted for her funeral. Even now, eleven years later, I still find practical notes from her written when she was planning for her inevitable death.
I learned a lot from mum in her final months and as a result have written down my funeral plan, told my family I trust them to make decisions with me or for me if I’m not capable, to donate my organs if appropriate and I’ve have shared my emotions about watching someone dying.
One of my biggest fears is leaving my girls behind without a mum, even though they are old enough to live their own lives in their own homes. How will they cope I find myself wondering, knowing full well they’ll be fine, but I’ve told them both that this is my worry and feel better for saying it out loud.
I’ve told a few of my friends about Dying Matters Week and for some it was a subject too far, but others shared their experiences finding it’s actually very special to tell someone you trust about the way in which death affected you. The one response that resonated with me came from a mate who has grown up children like me and who said without hesitation, “I tell my family when I’m old or dying do whatever you think is right, go ahead, I won’t mind. No guilt please.”
It’s not as easy as just saying “hey dying matters, let’s have a chat” but when an appropriate moment comes along, and it will, use it wisely and bravely and start conversations that you’ll never regret.
Dying Matters Awareness Week runs from 11 – 17 May 2020.