Death is the Big Event
How we ignore the most important event in our lives
A few weeks ago, back in Holland, I had a meeting about planning for a big family event with my brother, my mother and a consultant who is going to help us put it all together.
It was a good… effective meeting… well run and facilitated by the consultant, who was incisive, experienced, empathic and understanding
Nevertheless it was a pretty odd experience… Because you see, the event we were planning for is my mother’s funeral and the consultant was the undertaker….
The fact is my mother is going to die in the foreseeable future… so the meeting was about making arrangements for that event…
And the oddest moment of the meeting came right at the end of the meeting: The funeral director got up to say goodbye to us and he shook our hand in turn and he said: “It was really lovely to meet you and I look forward to seeing you later”…He will indeed see my mother later…
But she will not.
The most important event
But I think it’s really strange: There are all kinds of important events in our lives… being born, turning 21, getting married, having children, turning 50 or 60; 25 years of marriage You could argue that dying is actually the most important of all of those events, or at least as important as being born.
And we go through enormous contortions to prepare for all of those events. We might be planning our wedding day for years even and the planning that goes into getting ready for having our first child especially… wow… babyrooms, new car, baby equipment, prenatal yoga classes… you name it
But preparing for dying?
We don’t really even talk about death, let alone preparing for the actual event
Last minute panic
We just don’t do it, and so when we die, it’s is this incredible and enormous panic that we put on everyone else around us and they have to rush around finding the right photos and write the right text for the card; suddenly they have to make decisions about coffins, and speeches and music and endless other stuff, all in the space of a couple of days and then there is potentially one of the largest parties we’ve ever been part of and it’s all about us, (it’s certainly the last party we’ll ever be part of) and we’ve just left it all up to the poor suffering kids, relatives and friends.
As they say: you can be sure of only two things in life: death and taxes (and even taxes I’m not so sure about sometimes), but death is gonna come around, no matter what you do, we will all die and there will be a funeral and there will be a party and people will say things about us and there will be a heap of stuff to organise.
As sure as God made little apples, this will happen to each and everyone of us
Yet we walk and live and breath and talk and dream and think in absolute denial of that death most of the time. As if it doesn’t concern us.
Why is that?
I think it’s because we think it’s all too scary. We just don’t understand. We can’t comprehend what it will be like this death thing and so no matter what we really think about death and what we really feel about dying, we just use the time worn clichés to talk about it: “Well she had a good innings didn’t she”… “At least she didn’t suffer at the end”… “She looks like she is at peace now”…
The clichés around death and dying are incredible and I also have noticed myself struggling to avoid some of those clichés when trying to say something meaningful to friends who are going through the journey of Death. But clichés are a topic for another newsletter.
I want to tell you a bit more about the meeting instead.
It was actually a really good experience having this meeting with my mother and brother and the undertaker and talking about death
It brought us closer together
For my brother, who is the one who lives in Holland, it’s going to be much easier to make those initial decisions and get things moving, when she actually dies
For both of us it it will be easier to make joint decisions, because we have a sense of what is important for my mother around dying and her last moments amongst us
For the funeral director it will be so much easier to give us what we need, because he has met her and got to know us a little
And for my mother? Well she feels loved and cared for and, most importantly, she feels that she is still a little bit in charge, which, if you knew my mother you’d realise is right up there with breathing for her.
One of the funniest moments in the meeting with the funeral director came when we were talking about the party/ wake afterwards.
We were brainstorming about the kind of gathering we had in mind… the venue… what time… what drinks… how long and how many people and at one moment my mother was getting all fired up about how at parties like that she hates that kind of stupid finger food: The sad sack sausage rolls and pathetic party pies; The kind of horrors that get handed around at standup parties: “Those things make me make me physically sick” she said… It all went silent for a moment and we all looked at each other … and my mother said… oh yes… that’s right… i’ll be dead anyway