While many shy away from discussing dying & death, my mother was at ease with the topic & downright enthusiastic about the prospect of leaving this life for what’s next. Her faith held no fears about what’s next, plus she was fed up with being a widow, was eager to be – as she was certain she would – reunited with her O! Best Beloved.
Our 1997 ramble to & from DisneyWorld was highlighted on the drive down by Mom’s awakening to the possibility there was more to herself than she’d imagined, while the drive back included long discussions about what she wanted as she drew close to death.
Because Mom had already signed up with the Humanity Gifts Registry, I knew the only thing I had to do with her body was to give them a call, then decide later what to do with her ashes. HGR would – and did – do the rest.
On the drive up through the center of Florida, through the Smokies, along the Blue Ridge, we talked about how she hoped to approach her dying, which minister she’d like to do her memorial service, the songs, the party – she always loved that Gerry Timlin talked about the fine wake they had back in Co. Kerry after his dad died & she wanted a rouser of a party, too.
By the end of the drive, I was thoroughly versed in what Mom wanted as she neared the end of her life, what she wanted done in the way of medical care, where her documents were located, and what she hoped we’d do in way of a life celebration. All of this while she was still fit enough to brave the Magic Kingdom & walk the encircled nations of EPCOT.
Alas, a recent study in the UK shows that almost 1/3 of Brits haven’t talked about their own end-of-life issues with family or care support. I doubt folks here in the USA are similarly reluctant to discuss what far too many consider a morbid rather than natural topic.
Dying & death were frequently part of the cocktail hour Mom enjoyed every Friday with some very senior members of her friendship circle – “Grandma” Rose, Viola Ridgeway, Cornelia Stroh were all significantly older than Mom – always broached with light hearts & even a hint of merriment. They seemed more curious than anything. They showed no fear of death &, praise be, exited before the current era of prolonged dying.
Would that more of today’s oldsters elders ancients discussed their end of life over whiskey sours & canapes. Sadly, per the Age UK and the Malnutrition Task Force study:
- Most people could talk generally about death and dying within their own peer group but not their own family
- Younger people did not feel comfortable to speak to their older friends and relatives and closed down conversations very quickly
- Older people found it difficult to talk to professionals and family and easier to peers about wanting to stop treatment and let nature take its course
- Older people found that their grown up children do not want grandparents to discuss dying and death with their grandchildren – even when they have a positive relationship and may take on a fair amount of childcare responsibilities
- All age groups felt that they had no idea of what may physically happen when people approach the end of life
Ah hem… They might want to rethink that third bullet. Health care professionals are NOT comfortable with stopping treatment & would consider a natural death against their Hippocratic Oath. As for the first – all I could see were Mom’s wonderful circle of older ladies toasting each other, the church & life – and talking about the end as naturally as discussing a recipe. The fourth bullet was disconcerting – and worth a long discussion – while the 2nd is too vague to be of value. How much younger are we talking about? It’s my experience that those who are in their twenties & younger often seem more at ease talking with their grandparents than those over thirty & even more so over forty. As for the last bullet – naturally all age groups have “no idea of what may physically happen when people approach the end of life” because it’s NOT a cookie cutter experience, one size does not fit most.
Digging down into the data, the survey of 2000+ found that, in discussing dying & death with others:
- 50% said they would be worried about upsetting the other person
- 30% said they would be worried it would offend the other person
- 25% would simply not know how to bring up the subject
- 22% said it would make them feel too upset
- 20% don’t think they would be able to find the right time and place to have the conversation
- 19% said it isn’t something they would want to think about at all
Makes sense to me. Medical professionals have, right here in the USA, done our best to excise dying & death OUT of our normal experience. With less & less social interaction between generations, more & more children of all ages are unlikely to see older family members get frailer, decline, move through the stages of dying.
It’s hard to have a conversation around end-of-life issues when the different generations increasingly have less & less natural contact – how many people still gather around the Sunday dinner table as an extended family?
FACT: Death is a wild night & a new road that we will all experience & take. It’s inescapable, a fate best faced with others by our side. The book download on Aging UK’s website is a help, but we’re not going to find the solution to bringing up the topic if the generations aren’t connecting with each other in the first place. Until & unless we do, the distance between the ages is only going to get worse, we’ll be clueless about what each other thinks about living, let alone dying & death.
Let’s be more like “Grandma” Rose, Mrs. Ridgeway, Miss Cornelia & Mom, talking over sips & nibbles about life, joy, love – AND dying & death!
(* by Emily Dickinson)