Death, dying – these are dirty words in our society. In our pursuit of medical excellence we have extended life far beyond what our bodies would be capable of without that medicine.
This is a wonderful gift for those who get to share their lives for longer with those they love. But death is still natural. It is still something we all reach, and many believe only a stepping-stone to a quite different life in spirit.
So why do we find it so hard to face death – our own, or that of someone we are close to? Our society does not make it easy for us, because we have learned to see death as a failure, and an ending.
One result of this is that those who are dying often feel increasingly isolated. They may know intuitively that they are going to die, and yet their family shush them and don’t want them to ‘talk that way’. Doctors are also more likely to talk of ‘prognosis’ and projected length of life than to help their patients address their feelings as life comes to an end.
This Death Awareness Week is a good opportunity for us to really air this issue. People who are dying are not failures. They often have profound insights into their own lives and into what is really important. They may have big questions they would like to discuss and wisdom to offer.
Let’s open the conversation. Instead of confining bereavement support to counseling after the person is gone, let’s offer it whilst people are still here. Families could explore those issues together and resolve any issues rather than leaving it until it is too late. Death does not have to be tragic if you know you have said what needs to be said.
Grieving can begin before death. And for the friends and family, of course, death is not the end. It is the beginning of a new chapter where they can put the knowledge of the love they shared to use as their life goes forward.