Due to the fact that C-19 virus is ‘novel’ to the human population, we’re collectively having to go back to square one. We’re being taught some VERY basic personal hygiene, a simple understanding of viruses and how they spread, and sad to say, some basic manners. No, you don’t pick your nose or cough and sneeze over everyone around you. In effect, we’re taking back some responsibility for our own physical health and well-being, and learning some social responsibility at the same time.
But what about our emotional health and well-being in these turbulent times?
C-19 is highlighting how, as a British society, we tend to give away responsibility for the physical and emotional care of our elderly loved ones to total strangers.
C-19 is high-lighting the fact that due to population mobility, we (unlike Italy) often live hundreds of miles away from our elderly parents.
C-19 is highlighting the fact that we’ve got used to devolving responsibility to health care professionals to have those ‘so-called’ difficult conversations with our nearest and dearest. But now is a time we can and could/should be having these conversations ourselves.
If it’s any comfort, which I hope it is, my patients would often say to me that they were totally at peace with their imminent death, but that they didn’t want to upset their family by talking about it with them. I used to bridge the communication gap between patient and family. Maybe the hidden gift of C-19 is that it’s giving us the opportunity to talk about death, the final taboo, and how not to take precious life for granted?
I have a very pragmatic view of death; my grandfather and uncle were undertakers: both in the business of dealing with death. My father was a GP (my mother a nurse): both in the business of dealing with life and death. I am the product of my upbringing and I often joke that if I were a stick of rock, I’d have the word ‘death’ running through me!
I first broached the subject of my death with my adult children about 5 years ago. I wasn’t ill, I just wanted to get the conversation going. I told them that I wanted them to dress up as munchkins at my funeral: they had to skip behind the coffin singing that Wizard of Oz classic, ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’!
They were not amused, but that makes a good point. THEY were not amused by that mental picture, but I was. I’d already come to terms with my own death years before, helped hugely by my professional experiences in palliative care.
As a society we’ve sanitised death and shut it away whilst we rush about ‘living’. We never talk about the one thing that’s inevitable for all of us and it’s my belief that in avoiding its’ discussion, we’re limiting our ability to live a meaningful life – a life full of meaning.
We live life as if tomorrow is a certainty, and right now, thanks to C-19, we’re collectively realising that for some of us, it won’t be. The only thing that’s certain right now is the uncertainty of our future global way of life AND the manner and timing of our own death. Was it ever thus, but were we so busy rushing around, we didn’t notice? So, here are a few things to think about around death:
MY ADVICE ON DEATH: THE FINAL TABOO
Start a conversation with your loved ones, of whatever generation, about your (or an elderly parent’s) death. Do it NOW. Use this article as a conversation starter, if it helps. I want to say age-appropriate conversation here: but you know your kids best, so choose your language and level of conversation to fit their needs. Some (young) kids are way more emotionally intelligent than their parents.
Talk to each other along these lines Ask what your family think and feel, and talk about how you’re feeling too. If you create calmness and plenty of time for the conversation to happen, you’ll be amazed at what comes out. Ask about each other’s views on death and funerals. (In addition to Ding Dong, I want ‘Born to be Wild’ played at mine!). Talk about what is probably the most widespread fear for us all right now – what if we or a loved one were to die alone in a hospital in the current crisis?
It’s more than ok to have these conversations remotely via phone. In my work as a life coach, I love coaching over the phone, it makes me really focus on what’s being said. I have no body language to assist me, so I listen intently. Also, often what’s not said is as (if not more) important than what is said. And, listen to the gap in conversation. They’re either crying or thinking. Do not interrupt. MIND THE GAP!
TOP TIP! TOP TIP! Learn to LISTEN properly! #STFU!
Learn from your kids – you’ll be amazed at their insights and their pragmatism. Human behaviour, including fear, is learned from the people around us. If we fear death, we transfer that fear of death onto our kids. Stop and listen to what they can teach you about death before you infect them with your fear.
Be prepared for YOU to be emotional and if you feel emotional, don’t bottle it up. Allow yourself the time and space to cry and think. (See above – worth repeating). Doing this, you’re giving permission for others to own their (very) human emotions.
Jump in and do it now.
You’ll recall that I first brought up the subject of my death with my girls about 5 years ago? Last October, before C-19 featured in our lives, one of them opened up a conversation about my death and funeral. It had only taken her 4.5 years! We had a great few hours chatting about music, who’d do what and what I wanted. In case she didn’t listen properly, I’m telling you that I want a big knees-up following a serious, sombre reflection on what I good egg I was, if a little scrambled at times!
Remain or become calm
When we’re stressed we can’t think straight, so better to think and plan ahead whilst calm. Given my experience, both professional and personal, I’m a great advocate for the following adage: “Plan for the worst, hope for the best and when things are COMPLETELY out of your control, pray for a miracle.” Thus far in my 60 plus lifespan, it’s been a highly successful strategy.
Right now, so much is out of our control – except our ability to connect on a deeper level with our loved ones. Our wonderful NHS teams don’t have the capacity to give the emotional support they’d so love to give, so YOU do it now, just in case.
I’m hopeful for the future of mankind, because until C-19 came visiting, I felt as a species we humans had lost sight of what makes us human. We’d lost our way and had become human doings rather than human beings.
In this enforced global virtual lockdown, lack of time or distance to travel is no longer a valid excuse for not connecting with our loved ones. So, what kind of human being do you need to be when re-connecting at a deeper/even deeper level?
I’ll give you some time and space to work that one out for your unique situation…
For me it’s a word beginning with S….
If you want to know what my S word is, you’ll have to wait for the next blog! Haha!
In the meantime, remember to MIND THE GAP!