The importance of being open – Dying Matters Week 2019

THIS week is Dying Matters week – an annual awareness week which aims to encourage people to talk about death, dying and bereavement. Here we speak to Saint Michael’s Hospice chaplain Kathy Couchman with her perspective on why these sometimes difficult conversations are both useful and necessary.

“Many years ago, before I became a church minister and years before she died, one afternoon my mum started to talk to me about the hymns she would like for her funeral. ‘Oh, Mum,’ I said, ‘There’s no need to think about that yet!’ Was I trying to protect her feelings or my own? Probably a bit of both. Either way, with my response that particular conversation was closed down.

Yet my old mum was so ‘switched on’ and we subsequently had frequent conversations about her funeral. She made lists of the hymns she would like – which she amended frequently – and where she would like her funeral tea to be held; she set aside some money in a ‘funeral fund’, she even pottered off to a local funeral director with her friend to talk about the possibility of having a cardboard coffin: “I don’t want a tree being wasted on a coffin for me!”, she would say. She was exploring her options.

My mum was just getting things in order; she needed to get things in order. She was more than ready to think about dying and despite her advanced age, she was still very much a mum – wanting to make things as easy as possible for her children when she died by making decisions and making her wishes clear in advance.
Just like my mum, many of the patients I am privileged to work with at Saint Michael’s want, and indeed need, to be able to talk about and get ready for their death. To me, there is nothing morbid about this; it’s about planning, being practical, getting things sorted and then being free of the worry of all that and being able to get on with the rest of their living. Planning their funeral and making their Will is all part of their care for the people they love. When they have carried out their advanced planning, there is very often a deep sense of peace and relief, a sense of “Phew! That’s done.”
Six years ago, when my Mum was actually dying, she and I had a final planning chat – she had changed her mind about her hymns yet again! She was a very determined lady who knew what she wanted. She simply needed her family to allow her the space and time to be able to discuss it.”

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