At last, we’re talking about deathJanuary 16th, 2012 by Paul Hensby
When I started My Last Song four long years ago death, dying and bereavement were subjects rarely covered by media old or new. I had been to two funerals which were dreadfully inappropriate farewells and thought there must be a better way…from that My Last Song developed.
At one stage it had the strapline: Because a good life deserves a good ending, and that’s still our view.
Since then there has been an increasingly rapid change of attitude, highlighted by two or three events which, though small themselves, are significant because of what they signal.
But before that, mention should be made of organisations which have worked hard to change society’s view of how we end our lives. Dying Matters, set up in 2009 by the National Council for Palliative Care, works tirelessly to deliver its aim to change public knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards death, dying and bereavement.
Dignity in Dying is hugely effective in educating the public in their rights to have a good death, including the option of an assisted death for the terminally ill.
The British Humanist Association has publicised the virtues of a humanist funeral for those who have no religious beliefs and the Institute of Civil Funerals have ensured that civil funerals, often a mix of religious and secular, are conducted to a high standard.
And no summary of changes to funerals would be complete without mentioning The Good Funeral Guide who recommends those funeral directors who are moving with the times, and whose criticisms of the Cooperative Funeralcare and Dignity chains are founded on their sometimes appalling failings in customer care standards.
What of the smaller events which confirm the trend towards taking control of the end of life is gaining momentum?
First, the blog posted by ‘grief specialist’ Kristie West entitled Can A Funeral Be Beautiful? This highlights the film, Remembering Josh Edmonds, a poignant tribute video of a 22 year-old’s life and extraordinarily personal funeral. Making this film was his family’s way of celebrating Josh’s life, something that would have been unheard of a few years ago when the only acceptable way of treating a young death would have been to emphasise the tragic grief of a life taken too early.
At the other end of life’s passage, the Chicago Tribune highlighted what they call ‘Dignity Therapy’ which takes the form of interviewing the dying patient to record their messages to their loved ones, transcribing it and then producing a leather bound ‘legacy document.’
In this country, a similar service is provided by A Giving Tribute, an excellent start up which deserves great success.
The ever growing popularity of green funerals and the ‘natural death’ movement also shows that people are discussing the end of life event they want rather than leaving it to the local funeral director.
More radical still is the Death Café, currently only in London, but planning to expand to other parts of the UK, where, in the words of their website, ‘strangers come together to discuss death and eat delicious food.’ I plan to attend the next Death Café day, and will hopefully add to the favourable reports.
As for My Last Song, the growing use of the Lifebox where people store their funeral wishes, life stories, details to help their loved ones cope following their deaths shows the idea is increasingly appealing as is the number of people visiting the page describing the benefits of having individual death plans to ensure, as much as possible, you can have a comfortable and comforting death.
So at last we are changing our attitude to death, dying and bereavement, influenced for too long by Queen Victoria’s lifelong despair at the death of Prince Albert, into something we should discuss and be in control of.
Our deaths should be just as important as the rest of our lives, and thought of like this, a good life will indeed have a good ending.