My Father died unexpectedly, after a long battle with cancer.
Unexpected, because he had been so well that day. His former work colleagues shared lunch with him and my Mother at their home. Goodbyes had been said, when he suddenly fell and couldn’t get up. My Mother raced for those still at their cars who came and provided assistance. A while after that, an ambulance was called. He died that night, just after visiting hours…my Mother still thinking she would return the following morning with the clothing he’d requested.
He didn’t want to die in hospital; he didn’t want to die alone.
A funeral was held at the Crematorium for close family and family friends only, then all were welcomed to a Thanksgiving Service for him and his life. My brother, sister and I all spoke, sharing memories and aspects of him.
I told jokes. Well, related humorous stories about him, at any rate.
I explained that this would often be seen as unusual on such an occasion but, while traditions of respect are also important, it was a core part of him so to ignore it or pretend otherwise wasn’t real. I hoped I gave people permission to laugh, and also invited them to share a story if they had one. As I told the gathered people: ‘’…because if Dad was here now, he’d be sledging the lot of you!’’
Tears AND laughter, because that’s life. That’s reality.
Lives are meant to be enjoyed and then celebrated. And, yes, we miss people when they are gone. But, the classic statement: how tragic to never celebrate a person until they are gone! How tragic to never say what they mean to us; for them to never know how much we appreciated and loved them. How tragic to never speak of them again after their death, as if they…are on a long, extended overseas trip? As if they…never existed? As if they…and their life didn’t matter at all?
We want our lives to matter. We want to die surrounded by the ones we love. We mostly want to die in the comfort of home or something similar. How fantastic to be surrounded by the ones we love, knowing our lives matter, because they tell us and celebrate our lives while we are still here.
Some of us may have seen TV shows where a character wants to attend their own wake [food after the funeral, traditionally] and those in attendance are shocked by them suddenly appearing, having thought they had died.
Interestingly, when someone dies it is seen as significant to ‘’pay our respects’’…to travel long distances to be there and take time off work, if needed…for the funeral. Why not shift the importance and priority onto a Celebration of Life, before their death?
Some of the difficulties with a before-death celebration replacing the traditional one after-death, include:
- What if the death is sudden with no warning? This can happen in many circumstances, resulting in a before-death celebration not being possible.
- What if the death is so sudden and shocking that family and friends are unable to celebrate due to their shock and grief?
- What if, in the same family, some are able to enjoy a celebration of their life while others miss out completely? Or some are strongly in favour while others disagree just as strongly? Does that breed difficulties?
- When should the celebration be held? Even with ongoing terminal illnesses, it can be difficult to know the ‘’best’’ timing.
- What if a date is planned, yet they die just before it? Or get significantly worse?
- If we celebrate too early, what message are we giving the sick person?
- Some would no doubt be offended at the suggestion, as it may seem that people want to speed their death/get it over with, already, and so on.
- Does it square with the encouragement to ‘’stay positive’’?
- The last thing some very sick people would want, would be a ‘’party’’ when they are feeling awful.
Perhaps it is more about the individual being able to express their preference and have their choice supported, than seeking to shift one tradition for another?
Perhaps a growing awareness and conversation is needed about what the options are and about individual preferences, and about who can assist make these preferences a reality at the chosen time?
If dying at home is a large priority for many, then surely that means more options of income-tested subsidised care need to be available? If it is less realistic perhaps the conversation needs to be centred on the loved ones being present more than the location?
Perhaps another conversation that has been needed for some time, is the one that centres on cost and affordability? People want to predominantly die at home and surrounded by their loved ones. There is no mention here of wanting to cause their family a financial burden, of needing to be buried in the latest and greatest coffin.
Starting and having conversations about death, dying and preferences therein is essential to be able to enjoy and celebrate life.