When Ally Mosher’s grandfather died, the experience was far from peaceful. His death in hospital after a series of strokes was “chaotic and traumatic and something my grandmother knew she didn’t want for herself”.
After clearly expressing her wishes, Ms Mosher’s grandmother Margaret Butler died quietly at the age of 94 last month. She was in her own bed, in comfort and surrounded by close family members.
“Knowing what she wanted made it a lot easier for us,” Ms Mosher said. “We knew she wanted us to be there when she passed and my mum was holding her hand. It sounds like an odd thing to say but it was a perfect death.”
While we are familiar with the idea of living well, the idea of dying well is relatively new but one gaining momentum in the wider community.
Ms Mosher, a graphic designer from Hazelbrook, uses her own experience to promote “death literacy” although she admits not everyone is comfortable with the subject.
“There is a social stigma about death,” she said. “You can’t talk about death in a healthy, positive way. If you are talking about death you must be weird or morbid.”
Community group The Groundswell Project has spent the past five years creating wider awareness about dying to help overcome reluctance to address the issue.
The group has come up with 10 things people need to know about death, with workshops on the topic to be launched in conjunction with Dying to Know Day on August 8.
The Groundswell Project’s director, Kerrie Noonan, a clinical psychologist specialising in palliative care, found most people sought practical advice about death.
“People really wanted more information about the nuts and bolts stuff,” she said. “What do I need to tell my family? How do I approach the subject with them?”
A report by The Grattan Institute published last year found found that dying in Australia was more institutionalised than the rest of the world, with the majority of people dying in hospital or a residential care facility.
“We’re not around death,” Ms Noonan said. “Death is removed; it takes place in a hospital or a hospice. We don’t have a context for having conversations about death.”
Things to know before you go:
1. Make a plan. Fewer than 5 per cent of people have an end of life plan.
2. Write a will. Only 55 per cent of people who die have a will.
3. Tell someone what you want. Of those who know they are dying, only 25 per cent will have spoken to their families about their wishes.
4. Only 30 per cent of deaths are unexpected. Make a decision about how you want to die while you have time.
5. Doctors don’t die like the rest of us. They are more likely to die at home with less invasive intervention at the end of their lives.
6. Earlier referral to palliative care means living longer with better quality of life.
7. You don’t need a funeral director. DIY funerals are becoming more popular.
8. The majority of Australians choose cremation but there are alternatives including natural burial, burial at sea or donating your body for research.
9. We don’t grieve in stages. Only 10 per cent of us need professional support after a death.
10. 60 per cent of people think we need to spend more time talking about death.
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