Breaking down the taboo surrounding death
Posted on 13 May 2013 | 8:05am
A nice cheery start to the week. Not just any old week, but Dying Matters Awareness Week. Did you not know?
It kicks off tonight with the Inaugural Dying Matters Lecture in London, delivered by Professor David Cunningham, and followed by a panel discussion chaired by me, with publisher Gail Rebuck and her daughter Georgia Gould joining Professor Cunningham on the panel.
Why him? Because he was the surgeon who cared for Philip Gould. Why Gail and Georgia? Because Gail was married to Philip, and Georgia is their daughter. Why me? Because Philip was my best friend, and also because in my work with Time to Change, I am in the taboo-breaking business.
I can hardly believe it is now a year and a half since Philip died. I think about him every day. I thought about him a lot yesterday, when I was at Alex Ferguson’s last home game as Manchester United manager, because Philip died when I was at a dinner in Manchester celebrating Fergie’s 25 years in charge, and I got the call amid an amazing performance from modern bagpipe band the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.
He taught us a lot in the manner of his dying, and that will be part of the lecture tonight. He wrote a wonderful book, When I Die. He updated his earlier political book, The Unfinished Revolution, and inspired another, The Unfinished Life. His death was also a big part of my own short book, The Happy Depressive.
The message from all of them was that he engaged with his death, learned from the experience of dying, used it to make sense of his life, his politics, his relationships. It was almost as though he was enjoying it. ‘Philip,’ I said to him at one point ‘you can’t really be happy that you’re going to die?’
‘Well no,’ he said, ‘but I feel I have lived a good life and I feel these days and weeks have been amazing, maybe the most intense days and feelings of my life. It has made me feel whole. It has made me appreciate my life, my politics, my family, my friendships, more than I would if I had gone on and on and died of old age. I really do feel happy about that.’ I definitely feel different about death, and about life, for having seen how he faced up to death.
Dying Matters Awareness Week is organised by the Dying Matters Coalition, and was set up in 2009 by the National Council for Palliative Care to try to break the taboo about discussing dying and to make it easier for all of us to get our wishes met at the end of our lives.
Dying Matters now has over 30,000 members across England including charities, care homes, hospices, hospitals, funeral, legal and financial services, pensioner, carer and bereavement services and individuals including those with life limiting conditions.
At the end of the event this evening, seeing how twitter now has to be part of any happening, I will be promoting something called Final Tweets, or #FinalTweets as we call it in Twitterland. Dying Matters are asking people to tweet what their final last words would be, be they pithy, poetic, poignant or prophetic. Final Tweets should be no longer than 128 characters and can be tweeted, emailed or posted – and the plan is to publish a selection of people’s Final Tweets. More details can be found at www.dyingmatters.org/page/final-tweet
And here is mine, which I have just tweeted.
‘Glad I’ve gone before Fiona. Not sure I’d cope without her. Kids be happy but change the world. Ashes Turf Moor pls #FinalTweets‘
And here is the top of the press release on new research suggesting more of us have to face up to our own mortality.
MILLIONS RISKING LEAVING IT TOO LATE TO DISCUSS DYING WISHES
New research for the Dying Matters Coalition shows that the majority of people in Britain have not discussed or made any plans for when they die, and are risking not getting appropriate end of life care and making it harder for their families to deal with bereavement.
The British Social Attitudes (BSA) research released to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week (13-19 May) finds encouraging signs that older people are increasingly taking action to make their end of life wishes known but that most people are leaving it too late to face up to their own mortality. This is despite the fact that almost two-thirds of us (63%) have been bereaved in the last five years.
Today’s study reveals that although 70% of the public say they are comfortable talking about death, most of us haven’t done anything to discuss our end of life wishes or put plans in place:
- Only just over one in three people (35%) have a will, down on 39% in 2009 – with the impact of economic pressures being a possible cause of this decline.
- Fewer than a third of people (28%) have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card – although the number of organ donations after death has risen by 50% since 2008, more than 1,000 people on the transplant waiting list die each year (NHS Blood and Transplant figures).
- Only 11% of people have written down their funeral wishes/made a funeral plan.