Dying Matters week this year runs from 9th to 15th May, with the theme of “The Big Conversation”. We are delighted that Toby Scott, from the Dying Matters Coalition, has blogged for us about the importance of getting practical – which starts with talking…Toby writes:
My name is Toby Scott, and I’m going to die. Not any time soon, I hope. I’m not suffering from any life-limiting condition that I know of. I’m a bit overweight, but I don’t smoke and get a bit of exercise, I look both ways before crossing the road and don’t go BASE jumping without a parachute, so I’m hopeful of going on for a good few years.
Nonetheless, I’m going to die. And so are you. And so is everyone you love. Luckily, so will all the people you hate (if any). We all will.
Let me start by backtracking. There are many people – too many – who are dying earlier than they should, for a bewildering variety of reasons. I’m sorry for offending them and their loved ones – I don’t mean to upset you. And there are people who are told the words “you’re going to die” as a deliberate and horrible threat. I’m sorry to them too. This is an important topic, but I don’t want to offend or upset anyone. It would be thoughtlessly and unpleasantly wrong to start a conversation about how we are all going to die on a plane mid-flight, or in a crowded lift. Timing and context are important, and so is an awareness that other people are, for their own reasons, simply not ready to have this conversation.
I’m not trying to be facetious or flippant in saying I’m going to die, and so are you. For most of us, it’s an abstract thought, or easily mocked as the domain of doomed romantic poets or moody teenagers in black eye-liner. We might say it or think it, but then silently add “…but not for years” to the end. And by years we mean decades, and – who knows – maybe centuries if some breakthrough is just around the corner.
But, it remains true. We all will die.
And actually saying it, and meaning it, and knowing it, is both terrifying and liberating. To admit to ourselves, to own it, is scary: we’d mostly not think about it. But to acknowledge our mortality, our finite lifespan, is oddly liberating. We can’t defeat death, we can’t overcome it. But we can look it in the face – metaphorically – and say “see you later” and then turn our backs on it and get on with life.
I work for the Dying Matters coalition, and our goal is to get people to talk about death and then do something about it. We can’t avoid it, but we can plan for it: plan our funeral, make a will, decide on our end of life care and organ donations. Above all, we need to make these plans and write them down. And all this starts with talking about it.
This isn’t easy. Death is all too real for so many people right now – in illness, in conflict, in violence, in desperation, in hunger – that it can feel a little like a #firstworldproblem to be worrying about lasting power of attorney. But it matters. Getting our end of life plans in place enables us to get on with making the most of the life we have.
Everyone will react differently to thinking about death. There’s no right or wrong response. Some turn to a faith, some to intoxication, some to wonder, some to a health kick, some to trying to make the world a better place and some to so many other things. Many react in lots of different, overlapping ways, including denial.
And thinking about our own death makes us sad about the people we’ve loved and lost. There are so many reasons to put these thoughts aside and focus on something more positive. But before we do, please get your plans in order.
Talking about death won’t make it happen. Whatever we talk about, we’re all going to die. It’s true, but sad. But for now we have life. Let’s make the most of it.
There’ll be much more conversation at the Kicking the Bucket Festival too!