This year, 2nd-6th of May will mark Dying Matters Awareness Week.
During it, communities all over the UK will come together to open up around death and dying – to articulate what it means to them, and facilitate an honest, transparent conversation on the topic.
Death, after all, is something all of us will face; as fundamental to the human experience as life itself. Yet for most of us, it’s the inevitability of death – the fact that we can’t beat it, run away from it, or bargain it away – that makes it so hard to talk about.
Dying Matters Awareness Week is attempting to change this. It’s about helping people speak up about what death means to them. Whether you’ve experienced a bereavement, or are planning for your own death – or that of a loved one – Dying Matters Awareness Week is your opportunity to talk about it.
But Dying Matters Awareness Week isn’t just for people currently dealing with death, or those expecting to in the near future. It’s not just for the elderly, but for everyone – and that includes people not intending to be touched by death for many, many years.
We’re talking, of course, about young people.
For many young people – particularly those that haven’t yet been forced to confront the nature of mortality – death can feel like an abstract concept. Like something that exists, but not in their universe. This perspective, however, obscures a lot of important questions.
What does a ‘good death’ look like, for instance – and how can my family and I prepare for one? What kind of processes do we need to have in place before the end of our lives, and what can I do – now, as a young, healthy individual – to prepare for what comes later?
At the moment, young people aren’t speaking about this. Many, in fact, are going through life without going anywhere near those conversations; not only because they’re reluctant to, but because they haven’t had to. They haven’t experienced someone close to them passing away, or been directly affected by illness or grief.
Everything is good, and everyone they know is alive and well – they don’t need to talk about death.
So what happens when – at some stage or another – they do?
Talking about death now – normalising the process, and flipping that societal taboo on its head – will help young people develop the psychological and emotional infrastructure to deal with it when it does occur.
As young people, that may not be our own impending mortality – but what about that of an ailing or elderly relative? If we don’t have the resilience and resolve to even talk about death, how can we be there for our loved ones at the end? How can we help them to make difficult decisions, during the most stressful time of their life?