This COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many challenges, and, as a result, our health and well-being are likely to have been at the forefront of our minds. For those of us with elderly parents or family members with health issues, we may have had to give more thought to their health care needs. In some cases, we may have had to plan for their end of life care or arrange for their funeral. This pandemic has taught us that death isn’t just for the elderly; it has affected people of all ages.
Fear Of Losing Loved Ones
More and more children are reported to be struggling with stress-related symptoms associated with the fear of losing loved ones. Children need to be able to acknowledge and express their feelings and be encouraged to find ways to process their emotions. While ill-health and death may be difficult topics for discussion, they are conversations that need to happen. Children need open and honest conversations, in very plain language, where they get to ask questions. It’s worth keeping in mind that talking about death and dying isn’t about having all the answers. In fact, it’s more likely to bring up more questions than answers. But that’s a good thing.
I provide a link at the bottom of this post some wonderful organisations that give great tips on discussing death with children.
I also provide a link to a children’s story, Billy’s Feeling Sad, that teaches children the importance of processing their feelings and emotions.
There’s so much to be gained by talking about death and dying, as it allows us to discuss any cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs and traditions we may have. When my daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness some years ago, we were surprised to discover that she had a totally different perception of death and dying to our family beliefs. Thankfully, my daughter has recovered from her illness, and our open conversations mean we now have a greater understanding of our individual needs, wants and beliefs.
Death Of A Family Pet
Our pets play a huge role in our lives, they become part of the family, and when they die, we grieve their loss. It’s important that we discuss feelings and emotions, fears and loss, showing the children that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad. Helping them understand that expressing our feelings and emotions is a healthy way of dealing with our grief and will help us adjust to life without our pet.
The death of a family pet provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss any family and cultural beliefs and traditions around death and dying. What type of service, where should our pet’s body be buried, who will be invited, will there be food and drinks, should we read a poem, say a prayer, sing a song or play some music? What should we do with their favourite toys, their bed, lead etc., after their death?
Broaching The Subject With Loved Ones
Broaching the subject of death and dying with loved ones isn’t an easy task. It, therefore, helps if we can find ways to open the conversation. It may be that we talk about someone else’s funeral, then share some ideas we may have for our own plans. We could then ask if they’ve given any thought as to what they’d like at their funeral. Some may feel relieved that we’re broaching the topic with them, while others may find it difficult to open up, and that’s fine too. Just letting them know we’re open to talking about such sensitive matters is a help in itself.
The stories I share here with you touched my heart for many reasons. Maybe they’ll inspire you for your own plans or help inspire a loved one when planning their funeral.
Choosing The Perfect Resting Place
A very dear friend of mine has planned her funeral. She has opted for a wicker coffin and has chosen to be buried in a field designated for natural burial. She picked the spot herself, under the shade of a beautiful tree and surrounded by wildflowers. She describes it as a peaceful place where her body can return to Mother Earth, and her soul can return to the light.
Nowadays, headstones come in every conceivable shape, form and size, but it’s worth remembering that they typically represent the deceased’s life journey, beliefs and occupation. There’s a tiny graveyard in the village of Shere in Surrey, and one little headstone stands out amongst the rest and that’s a terracotta Flower-Pot-Man (woman) to mark the burial place of a ‘loving mother, grandmother and very keen gardener’.
Involving Family And Friends
I know of a gentleman whose coffin was made of heavy-duty cardboard, and his grandchildren drew flowers all around it. His family and friends wrote messages on the lid of the casket. While this was a traditional church service, the simple act of drawing on his coffin or writing a heartfelt message brought the entire congregation together to celebrate his life in a very family and friend centred way.
I heard of one lady who, when she was alive, was a very private person. She liked a quiet, simple life without any fanfare or fuss. She decided not to have a funeral but instead chose a direct cremation. This is a cremation without any formal ceremony or funeral services. She suggested her family remember her in their own way; they sat around the kitchen table drinking cups of tea and going through the old family albums at the time of her cremation; quiet and simple, without any fanfare or fuss, just as she liked it.
Making It Personal
My friend’s dad had dementia in his final years. He was a chain smoker and always wore a long woollen cardigan with two pockets on the front, one to house his cigarettes and the other to accommodate his lighter. He refused to wear trousers in his final years, instead preferring to sit around in his ‘jocks’ and ‘socks’. It was a no-brainer when the time came for his family to decide what to dress him in for his funeral – yes, you guessed it, his cardigan, jocks and socks, with his cigarettes in one pocket and his lighter in the other.
The Funny Side
When another friend’s dad died, the funeral undertakers asked that the family drop off the clothes they’d like him buried in along with any sentimental items they may want to place in the casket with him as a memento of his life. The family choose his favourite suit, his best shirt and tie and a beautiful tie-pin and matching cuff links that meant a lot to him as they were a gift from his wife to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. They also dropped off his favourite aftershave lotion, Old Spice, he wore it every day of his adult life, and they felt he should wear it at his funeral. When the time came to visit their dad at the undertakers, they had great difficulty keeping in their giggles. For, there in the casket was their dad, laid out in all his refinery clutching a bottle of Old Spice to his chest, while his cufflinks and tie pin glittered in the light. Her dad had a wonderful sense of humour, and she said he’d have found that to be hilariously funny.
Retirement And Beyond
We plan for retirement; in fact, we’re encouraged to spend most of our working lives saving for our retirement, and this gives us such a sense of security in our later years. But we’re rarely encouraged to plan beyond retirement and consider what care we’d like to receive should we take ill and are no longer able to care for ourselves or what cultural, spiritual or religious practices we’d like to be taken into consideration at our death. It’s then left to overwhelmed family members as they try to come to terms with our passing, as they struggle to plan and arrange the perfect ‘send-off’.
It’s good to plan this stuff while we’re still fit and healthy. It’s also good to have these chats with our loved ones to help them understand how we feel and what we believe, doing so gives us peace of mind knowing they will follow through on our wishes. It’s only by discussing death that we’ll discover how we feel in terms of Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or where we’d like to die, for example, at home, in a hospice or care home setting.
Our Final Wishes
It’s also a good idea to make a Will and appoint an executor; this will help ensure our wishes are followed through in the event of our death. We can stipulate the care we’d like if we’re in a situation where we cannot take care of ourselves. We also get to put in writing our funeral requests.
Writing a will also helps prevent any inheritance disputes and ensures we can gift what we want to whom we want. Otherwise, the Basic Rule of Intestate Succession will apply, and everything will go to our next of kin.
Most mortgage lenders suggest the writing of a will. For those of us with children, this provides the perfect opportunity to discuss with partners, family and friends what should happen to our children in the event of our death. We need to identify who would make the perfect guardian and we need to have open and honest conversations with them about the role they may have to take on. Writing a will allows us to put in place financial security for our children’s future. But all this needs careful thought and lots of honest and open discussions.
Seeking Guidance And Support
The following links are to some organisations that give great advice on advance care planning (ACP) and offers guidelines on how to open up conversations between people, their families and carers and those looking after them about their future wishes, be it in illness or in the event of death.
Please feel free to share your stories.