Watch David, Ellie and Ike in the Dying Matters film, that demonstrate what it means to be in a good place to die.
Where people die is changing. More and more people
have been dying at home in recent years. And the
pandemic has seen this number leap by tens of thousands.
We know that when asked, more than four in five people
say they would prefer to die at home, but we don’t know
enough about what the reality of this looks like. We have
very little evidence about the quality of these deaths, and
whether the right care and support was in place. The quality
of care for some people at the end of their life is still not
There is no right or wrong place to die; it will be different
for everyone. But it is important for families to think about
it, to talk about it and to plan for it. Planning for death
is more important than ever in a time when the COVID-19
pandemic has taken so many lives at such short notice,
and in circumstances that are beyond our control.
We want people of all ages to be in a good place when they
die – physically, emotionally and with the right care in place.
Getting there means having some important conversations,
and taking some careful decisions.
Make sure that you and your loved ones are in a good place when you die.
If you travel around South Molton in North Devon, you may notice the occasional car with a number plate inside the front windscreen bearing the word WREN. In case you don’t know the reason for this, Wren is the nickname of a young local man, Craig Rendle, who tragically took his own life a few years ago. I was the director who arranged Craig’s funeral. I knew Craig’s family as I had been involved in previous family funerals. As expected, it was a very difficult time for them.
Having been working in funerals for over thirty years and seeing many sad or even tragic deaths, suicides, especially of young people, affected me particularly acutely. After previously arranging the funeral of a young man who had taken his own life, I decided that I wanted to do something to play my part in helping to prevent these tragedies. I did some research and discovered an amazing charity called Papyrus- prevention of young suicide. Since then I have been promoting this charity in my locality as much as I could and plan to become more active as I involve others in working with me.
When Craig’s parents, Kevin and Carol were considering a charity to which donations in Craig’s memory could be donated, I suggested Papyrus and this was one of the charities they were particularly drawn to and one they chose.
When chatting to Carol a short while after Craig’s funeral had taken place, the subject of Papyrus came up and I shared with her my desire to volunteer for them locally, both in fundraising and promoting their services. I was particularly interested in going into local schools and colleges. Knowing that practically helping those who face similar difficulties to you can be cathartic to a person who has faced a tragic loss, I asked Carol if she would be interested in helping me some time in the future, when she felt ready. This appealed to her and we promised to stay in touch.
Earlier this year I was working on a promotional event which partly involved Papyrus and I thought of Carol. I resolved to give her a ring over the coming week to find out how she was and if she was still interested in participating in getting Papyrus known and active in our area. Two days later Carol called me.
Craig was a car fanatic, his passion being his Peugeot rally car. In tribute to Craig many of his car enthusiast friends display his nickname in their car windscreens. Last Friday evening, 26th April, they held a special ‘meet’ in South Molton Pannier Market in honour of Craig, arranged by his friend Jamie Easterbrook and attended by Craig’s Mum, Carol and Dad, Kevin as well as other members of his family. The event was arranged to commemorate his birthday, his life, and also to raise funds and highlight the work of the brilliant charity, Papyrus, prevention of young suicide, in Craig’s memory. I was honoured to be invited to talk to the young people attending about the work of Papyrus and be a point of donation collecting.
On the evening we collected £215.77. A fantastic start. This will go to Jamie’s Just Giving page, ‘For Wren’. A further £100.00 has been donated directly to Craig’s Just Giving page since then. Thank you Jamie and all those who came and kindly made a donation to Papyrus in Craig’s memory.
The theme for this years Dying Matters Awareness Week is ‘Are we ready?’ This is central to the aims of Dying Matters and Befriending Death.
Another lovely and thought provoking piece by John Pavlovitz.
I know two things about my death:
I know I’m going to die.
I also know that when the time comes, it will likely come as a surprise to me.
Death is usually like that; it arrives as a rude interruption—leaving work undone, conversations unresolved, plans unfinished, dreams unfulfilled. It rarely lets you wait until you’re fully ready to go.
Death leaves permanent ellipses where we’d have kept writing.
We will all be in the middle of something, of many somethings, when we are taken from here to hereafter.
As much as I can, I want to be prepared.
Given this, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I want to die:
I want to die helping people; being a place of refuge and rest and encouragement for those who find far too little of it here.
I want to die giving a damn about more than me; pushing past the selfishness and apathy that so many seem afflicted with, and that I am so prone to defaulting to.
I want to die being a dissenting voice of kindness; letting the harried, exhausted, beleaguered people around me know that they are worth more than the world often tells them.
I want to die seeing and hearing; having my eyes and ears turned toward the invisible and the unheard, knowing that some people spend their whole lives in the shadows.
I want to die speaking love; using my words to bring healing, to cultivate hope, to confront enmity, to warmly embrace those pushed to the periphery of this life.
I want to die laughing; releasing a combustible joy that explodes from deep within my belly and gives life to someone else.
I want to die feeling deeply; caring more than I should, loving lavishly, being moved by the beauty hidden in the ordinary that too many people miss.
I want to die being clear; about what matters to me, about the world I wanted to build—and clear to the people I love so that they never doubt it after I’m gone.
I want to die believing; in the goodness of people, in our shared humanity, in the stuff that makes us the same, in the mystery outside of my senses, of the wonder that this life deserves.
I want to die reaching; straining toward meaning and purpose—and a better version of myself than I was yesterday.
And if this is how I want to die, it’s also the way I need to live—so that when death does come, I’ll be in the middle of something redemptive and beautiful and worth spending those last moments doing—I’ll be in the middle of really living.
I don’t want to die squandering a gift or wasting daylight or overlooking people or procrastinating away love I could be giving now.
Friend, when you are interrupted here by death, what do you want to be in the middle of?
How do you want to die?
Decide that—and then go and live.
Earlier this year, I came across a very moving web post by church pastor John Pavlovitz. John beautifully put into words the sentiments that motivate me and others who work to promote the importance of increased awareness of our mortality. The post is reproduced below with John’s kind permission
On the Day I die
On the die I day a lot will happen.
A lot will change.
The world will be busy.
On the day I die, all the important appointments I made will be left unattended.
The many plans I had yet to complete will remain forever undone.
The calendar that ruled so many of my days will now be irrelevant to me.
All the material things I so chased and guarded and treasured will be left in the hands of others to care for or to discard.
The words of my critics which so burdened me will cease to sting or capture anymore. They will be unable to touch me.
The arguments I believed I’d won here will not serve me or bring me any satisfaction or solace.
All my noisy incoming notifications and texts and calls will go unanswered. Their great urgency will be quieted.
My many nagging regrets will all be resigned to the past, where they should have always been anyway.
Every superficial worry about my body that I ever laboured over; about my waistline or hairline or frown lines, will fade away.
My carefully crafted image, the one I worked so hard to shape for others here, will be left to them to complete anyway.
The sterling reputation I once struggled so greatly to maintain will be of little concern for me anymore.
All the small and large anxieties that stole sleep from me each night will be rendered powerless.
The deep and towering mysteries about life and death that so consumed my mind will finally be clarified in a way that they could never be before while I lived.
These things will certainly all be true on the day that I die.
Yet for as much as will happen on that day, one more thing that will happen.
On the day I die, the few people who really know and truly love me will grieve deeply.
They will feel a void.
They will feel cheated.
They will not feel ready.
They will feel as though a part of them has died as well.
And on that day, more than anything in the world they will want more time with me.
I know this from those I love and grieve over.
And so knowing this, while I am still alive I’ll try to remember that my time with them is finite and fleeting and so very precious—and I’ll do my best not to waste a second of it.
I’ll try not to squander a priceless moment worrying about all the other things that will happen on the day I die, because many of those things are either not my concern or beyond my control.
Friends, those other things have an insidious way of keeping you from living even as you live; vying for your attention, competing for your affections.
They rob you of the joy of this unrepeatable, uncontainable, ever-evaporating Now with those who love you and want only to share it with you.
Don’t miss the chance to dance with them while you can.
It’s easy to waste so much daylight in the days before you die.
Don’t let your life be stolen every day by all that you’ve been led to believe matters, because on the day you die, the fact is that much of it simply won’t.
Yes, you and I will die one day.
But before that day comes: let us live.
You can read more from John at johnpavlovitz.com
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.
Trying to encourage people to talk about dying and death can be difficult in the easiest of circumstances. Trying to do so in the middle of a cold and windy city high street, when people are keen to go about their business, is another matter all together. Respect to my colleagues Aly and Max from Living Well – Dying Well, and Diealog for doing just that.