Growing up, my Dad was always comfortable talking about his own death.
“Linda, can you pass the green beans?”
“I think when I die, I want you to scatter my ashes on the soccer field where I coached Luther growing up.”
(Awkward family pause)
“OK. Is there something you’re not telling us?”
“Nope, I just had so many good memories there, I thought it would make a nice resting place.”
Now, it’s become something of a bi-annual tradition … Sometime during the year, usually over a nice dinner at the most unexpected time, my Dad will throw out a new place he wants his ashes spread.
Out at sea in the Gulf of Mexico? Check.
On the Perdido Key beach mixed in with the sand. Yep.
In the Ecuador mountains? But, of course.
Somewhere near one of his first offices? OK.
He has given us so many destinations for spreading his ashes over the years, that we joke about setting up a wiki page, so that we’ll know what his most up-to–date request before he died.
How does the rest of the family react to all this talk of death?
My Mom shuts down: “I don’t want to talk about any of that.”
My sister ignores it and changes the subject: “I had a great trip to Oklahoma last week. Y’all want to hear about it?”
Me, I try to engage him. “Wait, last time you said you wanted to be at the soccer field. Now you say out at sea. Do you want to be in both places? Or are you canceling your last request for the soccer field and going all-in on the ‘ashes at sea’ plan?”
And my Dad will usually engage with me more and give more details (with a lot of groaning from the peanut gallery).
The truth is my Dad is right to be able to talk freely about his own death.
His life, his death, his choices.
I like that he has shown me that it is OK to acknowledge that you are mortal.
Nobody Said It Was Going to Be Easy
It’s true that some people aren’t going to be comfortable talking about death. It triggers some painful realities that we don’t really like to touch too often, if ever.
Here are two tough ones:
- I am going to die.
- Everyone I love is going to die.
Ouch. Not exactly dinner conversation (unless you’re my Dad).
But being that both of those things are true and we haven’t found a way around them yet, there is an amazing transformation that can happen in a relationship and within families when we bring the subject of death (ours and those that we love) out into the light of day.
It robs the proverbial “pink elephant” of energy when we can address it instead of ignoring it. It returns power, purpose, control, and choice.
- What do worry about when you think of death?
- What do you think will be most helpful prior to your death? How do you think that I will be able to help you at that time?
- How would you like us to proceed if your heart stops beating?
- What are your goals for the time you have left on earth?
- Is there anything else that you want to talk about?
- What would be a good death for you?
We can have these conversations any time, not just when someone is nearing the end of their life. In fact, having these conversations with our loved ones when they are healthy may make it easier to have the conversations when they are closer towards the end-of life.
Here at Medalogix, we have created and deployed predictive analytics software that is great tool for nurses and agencies to identify and transfer patients to hospice at the right time.
There are many benefits for using this type of tool (you can read about those here), but that is not what this article is about. This article is not meant to be about statistics, ROI, census benefits, or any of those things.
This article is meant to be more personal.
What About You?
“What are my highest wishes, hopes, and fears for my own death? Does anyone close to me know that?”
If no one knows, try to start up a conversation this week. It may be awkward, but who cares? It’s worth it.
“What are the wishes about end-of-life for the two people closest to me in life? When was the last time that we talked about it?”
If you don’t know any answers about this for the two people closest to you, see if you can seek them out this week (gently and compassionately, of course).
In the course of living, we all experience our share of death, both unexpected and expected. Living and dying are so connected that they are two sides of the same coin. One of the strangest twists of life is that we don’t get to know how much time we have left.
Let’s step up and have courage to talk freely about how we want to live and how we want to die. Let’s learn to be more compassionate with ourselves and others on this subject. Let’s open our hearts and be vulnerable, and allow it to bring us closer with each other. To acknowledge our humanity.
How can we give those closest to us what they want and need most for the rest of their lives, both now and when they are at the end of their lives? How can they do the same for us? What would that look like?
And could you go ahead and pass the green beans?