Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
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, Becky tackles the meaning of being in a good place to die… spiritually.
When I was handed the task of contemplating spirituality and being in a good place to die, my first thought was to consider how different religions would approach this. It could be a great piece of learning, as my knowledge of religion is far from extensive, but I also felt that it’s time to recognise that there needn’t be pressure to assume that spirituality begins and ends with religiousness. As someone who was Christened purely through social convention (and was made to attend only minimal services and Sunday school sessions in order for this to be possible), I feel strongly that our spirituality is something that we have complete choice to define.
I very much admire those who practice a faith. I’ve witnessed first-hand that it provides many people with strength and comfort, and I’ve occasionally wished that I could have this experience too. My own spiritual beliefs are self-supported, and it is with this in mind that I think about how I would like to feel at the end of my life, and what would enable me to be prepared to die at peace.
For me, this would mean a number of things, and could well mean some more things that I’ve yet to think of! I would like to die knowing that I have said all that I want to the people I love most – and those I don’t love so much. And this isn’t necessarily about pleasantries, it could be that I felt free to finally air any grievances, and tell people how their behaviour had impacted my feelings. I hope that it would also be to ensure that those I hold dear do know what they have meant to me, and how their presence in my life has been positive. I like to think that I say many of these things regularly even in life as it is for me today, but I think that, at the end of my life, I would like to make sure that I had fully made the point whilst I was able to.
I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for anything I had done wrong during my life at that point too – I don’t think I’d want to knowingly die whilst an apology were owed. But conveying some of these emotions also has a more simple purpose for me – the chance to spend time with the people I love. So many of us have fully-appreciated how much of a luxury spending time with our loved ones is, and I would want to make the most of that before my life ended. Whether we were sharing a deep confessional, or just discussing the weather, I’d like to have the opportunity to share some precious minutes with those I know best.
All of this would bring me closer to the goal of being spiritually comfortable – ultimately, I see this as being about peace of mind, as well as making peace among other human beings. As someone who’s naturally-organised, I’d also be more spiritually comfortable if I had put plans in place for my belongings, how my estate would be settled, and how my funeral would take place. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable if I left behind things that could have been sorted out with my help… although I might leave the arduous task of clearing my wardrobe and other ancient belongings to someone else, with the helpful instruction that I honestly don’t mind should they choose to make prodigious use of a skip!
Much of my inspiration for this thought process comes from my own beliefs and considering what will make me comfortable and content. This may change over the course of my lifetime – I’ve known people who have altered their worldviews in terms of religious beliefs in particular, and my opinions and beliefs have already changed as I’ve progressed through life too. My thoughts were also supported by a wonderful thread on Twitter shared by Dr Kathryn Mannix, author of ‘With The End In Mind’. Dr Mannix’s advice is excellent on this occasion in particular, as she guides someone through the options for helping their teenagers deal with the possibility of being present when their relative dies. It’s good advice for anyone supporting a young person, or themselves, through the process of a bereavement, and I find much of this advice to be meaningful in a spiritual way. I think it’s a brilliant demonstration of how to build a set of beliefs as these young people learn more about life and death.
Whilst I haven’t been present for anyone’s death, I have experienced several bereavements of friends and family members. I’ve noticed that each has been different, partly because all of these people were individuals, but also because the circumstances around their death was different every time. In addition, I have been a different person in each moment. This means that my response was different, and my choices varied too.
At the time of writing, I’ve been invited to three funerals (for the three further ‘close’ deaths I’ve experienced, two of those people didn’t want attended funeral services). Of those three, I chose not to attend one for several reasons. Six years later, it’s a decision I still think about – I’m no longer sure whether it was a case of what was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for me, but more the best I knew what to do in the moment I had to make the choice. And although I didn’t attend my friend’s funeral, I did choose to honour her life privately in a way which felt appropriate to my needs and our relationship.
This, for me, is another way in which we can be spiritually comfortable with death – encouraging those who mourn for us to make an empowered decision which is best for them as individuals. After all, it is they who are left behind living, and must continue with the consequences of their choice – it is important to remember that, whilst attending a funeral is an important part of the process to many people, this isn’t always the case; and that whilst you may find it best to attend one person’s funeral, this might not be the same the next time you are in the position of needing to decide.
So, as is often the case with thoughts shared via our blog, I return to the idea of discussing situations with those you are closest to, rather than making assumptions. There is no harm in having these conversations before death is near, we can talk about the end of our lives at any time. Although, as I have stated previously, it is important that, as things progress, we check in to ascertain whether our knowledge remains up to date. It’s vital to remember that we only know each other’s preferences by sharing them – whether you need to write them down or talk to people, that’s what matters most.