Dying Awareness Week 2020
Why ever do we need a dying awareness week? We are all aware of that other great certainty, taxation – but we don’t have to chat about it!
The thing is, when it comes to dying, we probably do. Research last year commissioned by Sue Ryder revealed that 7 out of 10 adults have never talked to their loved one about what might happen when they die. The result is either a hurried conversation when brain or body are beyond it, or no conversation at all, followed by silence and regret. This particular conversation is one which my late wife and I had many times. Sometimes we talked about the last days and how they would be. Sometimes we talked about her legacy amongst family and friends. Sometimes we talked about her funeral. The main thing is that we talked. The spectre of death is robbed of some of its power as we talk about it.
I have been talking a lot about it since. It has been my privilege to assist with the launch of two national campaigns for Sue Ryder: a better grief and a better death. Working in partnership with Authentic Media, I wrote Postcards From the Land of Grief, and have seen many touched by its honesty. The book charts my journey through the first year of bereavement – with all the strangeness, challenge and reassurance which it brought. I have also spoken about the subject numerous times on air, to the extent that a friend in the radio business described me as ‘the death guy‘.
That is most definitely not a moniker I would have chosen. However, to act as some small kind of catalyst in these conversations has been a real privilege. To take a little bit of the terror out of having ‘the conversation’ has felt like a good thing. One of the advantages of the ‘postcard’ format has been that it encourages a ‘dipping in’ approach. Like flicking through a collection of postcards in a shop, you can pick something up when it seems to speak to you.
I close with a quote from the book, and an invitation to read it this week. After all, dying matters.
It continues to surprise, this land of grief. Its topography is so hard to read – like the shifting sands of the desert. To climb a tiny hill can feel like scaling a mountain – leaving the lungs gasping for air at the top. Once scaled, the view behind may be spectacular, but the view ahead is hidden, at least for now. Some of the valleys which look like no more than a ditch prove to have sides so steep that they all but blot out the light.