Do you have a death plan? What should happen if you die?
I ask these questions as I facilitated a table at the Yorkshire and Humber Dementia Network event on Thursday about ‘Dying Well with Dementia’
The table could just have been ‘dying well’ as what kills you doesn’t really matter – when you’re dead you are dead.
Cath who works for Making Space, a national charity supporting people living with dementia described the Death Café she is running next week in Doncaster – the idea being that people come together to discuss death. Cafes like this have been running internationally for several years; you can find one near you here.
I am no expert in the philosophy and culture of death* – as someone who works with older people however, death is something I encounter on a regular basis and I don’t believe I have any hang-ups about the subject.
I little while ago I wrote a blog about the Jewish tradition of saying ‘I wish you long life’ at the time of a burial, I know that Jews and Muslims are concerned about being buried as soon as possible after death, I know that Mexico as a hangover from Aztec days celebrates the Day of the Dead every year in November. Beyond that not a lot.
I am probably as guilty (is that the most appropriate word?) as anyone for not really considering what should happen** either in the lead-up to my death (we call this an advance care plan and I have written about this) (here), or what should happen afterwards – burial or cremation? Scatter me at sea or mulch me with the compost – donate my books to charity or hang on to some of my most beloved (Kafka, Roth, Kerouac, Auster & Llosa if anyone is interested).
I don’t intend to publicly announce my wishes here, although perhaps I should. What does everyone think? Is this something that should be private?
I certainly would hate to think for example that anyone might fall-out over my death – an argument over the form of burial would be a shame. (I’d quite like to be near my parents) – (happy to go down the route of alkaline hydrolysis).
I remember years ago when we opened the Gresley Unit in the hospital, I had wanted to call it the Clifton Unit after Nigel Clifton our then legendary Chief Executive who died in post. Someone said, ‘Nigel once told me he never wanted to have anything named after him,’ Was that true? How would we know? What a weird thing to tell someone… But, nevertheless, we didn’t get to name the unit after him.
So, if you don’t make your wishes explicit, anything can happen – the wrong sort of music; religious vs secular, tears rather than laughter, some ill-prepared priest stumbling over details of your life that are wrong or mispronounced.
We don’t like to talk about death – times are hard enough without focusing on what to do if we aren’t. Freud said that this was a place we couldn’t go psychologically. It is definitely somewhere we will all go physically sooner or later.
Perhaps we should start our own Days of the Dead – the Death Café is maybe a step towards this.
Better to burn-out than fade-away as Jim Morrison said; it doesn’t really matter – the end result is the same.
Have you told anyone what you would like to happen?
*I do have a book entitled ‘Why is it so difficult to die’ on my shelf, which is probably best left for another day.
** As described in this blog, this blog is to some extent a preparation.