I have noticed an interesting range of responses to grief during my life. Within my own family circle there have been many cases where death has been unexpected and tragic.
A sister dying minutes after her birth in 1965. In those days it was thought that not talking about it, pretending that it never happened was the best way forward. I can attest that it was not so for my mother.
In the seventies my paternal grandmother died well into her golden years. She lived around the corner and we used to do a lot of gardening together. I was young and very sad when she died. Hers was the second funeral I remember going to. Before the service I was standing near my mum, crying quietly. One of Dad’s brothers told me to stop crying. I remember feeling embarrassed and confused. Crying seemed to match the way I felt. In later years, I spoke to my Mum about this and she said it was most unlike him… so it has me reflect on how the well-intended words of others can so totally miss the mark and add to a persons’ grief and distress.
I suspect that our general ineptness at dealing with grief is culturally specific to anglo-Westernised societies. With the proliferation of so many things to live for and industries – dollar industries – dedicated to preserving youth and prolonging life we are a culture that avoids thinking about death, let alone talking about it.
So what does this mean for us when
someone we know or love dies?
Let me say that being able to think and talk about death and dying need not be macabre or the focus of every second conversation we have in life. Living at one extreme or the other – talking all the time or not ever thinking about death – are not healthy or helpful places to be A predisposition to talk constantly about death and dying may be a sign of many aspects of one’s life being out of balance – from experiencing mental illness and suicide ideation to having murderous thoughts and tendencies.
A predisposition to avoid talking or thinking about death can result in several less than pleasant outcomes. On a practical level never having discussed your end of life preferences with those you love – from medical interventions to the where and how of what to do with your body post your last breath – will leave someone to make difficult decisions on your else’s behalf potentially creating additional distress in already distressing times. And the shoe can easily be on the other foot if others have not discussed their preferences and you are left to make the decisions in a time of grief. Personally, I would prefer to be prepared to my sake as well as the sake of others.
In a similar vein, organising your funeral to the n-th degree might also present some challenges for those who are mourning your death. Funerals are for the living… those who have to make sense of the death of a loved one. A funeral or end of life commemoration can be a crucial part of the grieving process for family and friends. Preventing them from having any say in how they would like to send you off can have a significant impact on their ability to move through an easier grieving process.
So my invitation to you is to start thinking a bit more about death and dying so life can be appreciated while living and you can be better prepared for the expected or unexpected death of a loved one. And if you’ve started your thinking, maybe it’s time to start sharing your thoughts!
We have just one life…
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Just One Life… doing and designing dying and death differently and with dignity and distinction.
For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.
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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime & End-of-Life Commemoration Specialist (a funeral celebrant among other things) based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories about the nature of life and being human, as well as, celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes.
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