Many people are afraid of dying
Last year I was involved in a combined event with a number of other organisations and voluntary groups and as part of the exhibition I provided a cardboard coffin. People attending were invited to write something on the coffin that commented on, or summarised their view of dying and death. There were many positive comments, such as ‘live your life well’, ‘make your funeral wishes known’, ‘plan for your death’, but there was one tucked away on one side of the coffin that stopped me in my tracks. It read, ‘I’m afraid’.
Whenever I think back to that moment I am constantly surprised at how much this comment moved me, and still does. After all, the reason I am involved in these projects is to help people confront their fears. The event was supposed to be positive. There was much raised conversation, genuine enquiring, humour and laughter, even concerned questioning. But the one thing that was not apparent was fear. And yet, for at least one person, that emotion was present, and possibly went unresolved.
Perhaps that person had recently lost someone. Perhaps they had an ill relative. Perhaps they were ill themselves. Or perhaps when they thought about the end of their own life, it engendered emotions that were unpleasant, as they indicated in their little note on the side of the coffin. I do hope that they spoke to someone at that meeting and began to gain support in dealing with their fear.
For many of those involved in the Dying Matters Awareness Week, dying and death is part of our everyday work or lives. Many work with those who are facing the end of their lives and carry much experience of helping people deal with this transition through their physical decline and the associated emotional journey.
As much as we try to engage more people in end of life matters and normalise dying and death in the public psyche, we must remember that fear is a strong emotion and powerful motivator. There will still be some, possibly many, who do not want to overturn the stone that exposes their mortality, or that of those close to them. The befriending death journey must, for some, be a cautious one, and people should be encouraged and allowed to travel it at their own pace. It would be easy to provide an event and feel that we have achieved some of the goals we set ourselves. But it is important to remember that through all the positive discussions, general chat, and laughter, for some people we may have exposed their fears again, or even for the first time, and they may now be in need of further support. Dying Matters participants must maintain their mission as one that is ongoing, all year round.