Chrissie Wilkie of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors, Hurstpierpoint
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors is marking Dying Matters Awareness Week 2021 in several ways. The company – whose West Sussex offices are located in Billingshurst, Crawley, Horsham and Hurstpierpoint – is running two online events to support this year’s theme of ‘Are you in a good place to die?’. In addition to the wider theme, members of the public are being asked to consider how this relates to a particular topic each day. Today, Chrissie tackles the meaning of being in a good place to die… emotionally.
Are you in a good place to die? Over the years we have certainly broken down a lot of barriers and what was once considered a ‘taboo’ subject, is talked about more openly. But there’s talking and there’s having a conversation.
If you were to pose the question ‘Are you in a good place to die?’, the chances are, very few of us have given the matter serious consideration and contemplated exactly what that means, and more importantly asked yourself; how will my death affect the people that I leave behind?
We live in a complicated world and whilst we have time on our side, wouldn’t it be fitting to be able to die, having gift wrapped our funeral arrangements, sorted out our finances and let our wishes be known?
The Financial Times wrote on 3rd January 2020: ‘More than half of British adults have not made a Will. Of those who have, many have not updated their Wills for some time, which is reflected in the soaring number of inheritance disputes heard in the High Court. Dying intestate — the legal term for not leaving a Will — can leave considerable costs and complications for people left behind to deal with, alongside the heartache of grieving. Despite this, research from Will writing service Farewill estimates that over 30m people in the UK have still not got around to formalising their intentions’.
Later this week, Abi will be blogging specifically on the financial aspects of preparing for the end of life, so I’ll leave the details to her. Today is an opportunity to discuss something that many people don’t consider at all – preparing emotionally for death. I’ve got a relevant experience to share here – my Mum gave our family a brilliant example of how to do this as she approached the end of her life. Both expected and sudden death require you to plan for yourself and your family, and I’m grateful that I was given the opportunity to prepare. My Mum’s choice made it easier on our family and took away confusion when the time came to making important decisions.
Receiving a terminal diagnosis can allow the patient and their families time to think about how they want to use their time. A wide network of health professionals from GPs, Community Nurses and Ministers, who all have your best interests at heart, and will work with you to ensure that at every step of the way, your needs and wishes are fulfilled and respected.
This was certainly the case for my Mum, who died peacefully at home, aged 54.
My Mum was diagnosed with cancer 8 months earlier; and although she bravely sought treatment to prolong her life – just so she could have a little more time with her family, she knew that she was never going to be able to outrun this disease.
My Mum was pretty pragmatic, which made it easier for her to be able to tell us what she wanted, although it was the hardest conversation for us to have to listen to. There’re not just the practicalities of caring for someone at home, but the emotional rollercoaster that the whole family goes through; lives are put on hold and you walk trance like into an unknown, scary future.
With expected death, someone who has received a terminal diagnosis, it’s not unusual for grief to begin beforehand – anticipatory grieving.
As my Mum’s illness progressed, we moved her bedroom downstairs. We placed chairs at regular intervals, so she could continue to move slowly around the house, without having to ask us for help, which meant that she could continue to sit out in the garden, something that she really enjoyed and gave her a lot of pleasure.
Specialist equipment was delivered to support her care at home, a bath hoist, air mattress and other equipment, which all helped to maintain her dignity until the very end. Your GP, social worker or district nurse will refer you to an Occupational Therapist for an assessment. Some pieces of equipment can be hired and they do make a big difference to the person you are caring for. Remember, you are not in this alone.
As a family, we worked together, to make sure that one of us was always on hand for her night and day. We sat together to do crosswords, puzzles and to talk and laugh – conversations were light and easy, something that we could afford, because she had been very clear on her wishes previously. This gave us time to enjoy the precious time left we had left with her, unhindered and free to talk about everyday life and still be a family.
My Mum passed away at home, just like she wanted to, surrounded by her family.
Those who are in a care home or Hospice, will already have devised an end-of-life care plan, which will indicate what they would like to happen in their last few days and hours, and after death. Which Funeral Director they have chosen, whether to be buried or cremated, special songs that they would like played at their funeral.
Sudden, unexpected death, gives you no time to prepare, or say what needs to be said. Coming to terms with the death of anyone close to you is incredibly difficult to comprehend and navigate.
Death is as individual as your fingerprints, as is the grief that people go through following a bereavement. It’s understandably, a difficult and stressful time as you wrestle with your emotions and try to come to terms with losing someone special. It’s at this most challenging of times that you might be expected to start making arrangements and find yourself thrown into a bewildering process that you’ve never had to deal with before.
Not talking about death doesn’t protect your loved ones, it creates confusion, at a time when you least need it. If you can vocalise what’s important to you when the time comes, you take away uncertainty and allow your family to start the grieving process without having to worry about whether they are making the right choices for you.
As a Funeral Arranger, we actively promote the importance of having ‘that’ conversation. Many of us in this role have experienced personal lose, yet we can’t and won’t pretend to know what you are going through, you are unique – we can help you prepare and discuss the various options that pre-arranged funeral plans can provide, not for any other reason, other than – dying matters. You matter.