May 24, 2017

Why Being Conscious of Death and Dying Can Make Us Live Better

Imagine that you’re 70, you’re still living independently and you’ve lived a very healthy life. You have always tended to your garden, which you are proud of, and you’re conscious of the environment without being a “greenie”.

And then you find out that when you pass, you’ll have to go into a coffin that was made overseas, that your body will be embalmed with chemicals, you will be put in a cemetery with all this concrete around you and that your family are disconnected from the planning of your funeral. That whole process is just “not you”.

On the other hand, imaging knowing that your family can look after you when you die and that you don’t have to have strangers bathe and dress you. That you don’t have to be embalmed, that your family can make you a coffin or buy a local one and decorate it, that you could be buried in a natural setting or in a shroud. You can even have a funeral service in your own backyard, instead of a chapel at a funeral home.

Would you feel better knowing that you made the choice that was right for you?  

Libby Maloney from Natural Death Advocacy Network (NDAN) explains that, “being conscious of death and dying makes us live better”.

“People feel really empowered knowing the choices that are available to them, documenting those wishes and communicating them. They feel really satisfied when they feel they have control of what happens to them”.


Demystifying Death and Dying

According to Libby, it’s a three step process;

  1. Find out what you can have, do your research.
  2. Make your choice and write it down, and you can change these at anytime.
  3. Tell your family and loved ones your wishes. It can anything from a conversation now to a letter you have them read after you pass, whatever you’re most comfortable with.

What the NDAN hope to do it to demystify and reclaim “death and dying” in the community, so that people can make really genuine choices around their wants and needs.  

By promoting more education and awareness around the choices that are available at end of life, people can feel more informed about what they can have and what they can do.

People can end up having “really authentic and meaningful funeral and burials, a special day for their loved ones,” says Libby.

Funerals don’t have to be rushed and panicked, it’s already hard enough being in mourning. If you and your family are prepared, the process can be quite calm and even therapeutic.  

The focus of the Natural Death Advocacy Network is a holistic approach to end of life.

This means things like;

  • Natural burials
  • Shrouded cremations
  • Caring for a body at home
  • How you can be the funeral director yourself (meaning that you don’t need to hire one),
  • How you can care for a body naturally in a way that doesn’t need embalming
  • How to make a coffin of your own or make your own shroud

There are many ways for a family to feel empowered so that they can manage their own death rites – so that they don’t have to have strangers come into their space and have to follow their formula rather than what they themselves want.


“That” Conversation

There are still sections of the community who aren’t having “that” conversation. It could possibly for culturally specific or religious reasons, or they just find the whole thing too uncomfortable.

But according to Libby, there’s been a shift in people’s willingness to have the discussion, “we’ve found that people do want to talk about death and dying. I think the taboo aspect is shrinking”.

Libby finds that while the community are talking about it amongst themselves, there is still hesitation from organisational structures in society.

Within the medical field, doctors still prefer to talk treatment plans rather than prepare a patient for death.

Aged care is another sector that could be more open to discussing and planning death. Libby says that “the ones that do it well, do it really well” but that there’s “still a lot of mystery in aged care facilities”.

“I think we’re all disinclined to talk about things that make us sad or uncomfortable. The more we talk about these things ahead of time, the better off we are and the easier it is”.

If you only have this conversations for the first time when mum had just been diagnosed with cancer, and has only got a month to live, then you’re going to find that conversation extremely hard.

Or grandma is 95, very frail and that conversation is too upsetting for her to have.

Whereas if you have this conversation when we’re well and willing, then it becomes all that much more easier.

“What we need to do is change the culture of “oh, I don’t want to upset people so I won’t talk about what my wishes are” to the mentality that discussing your wishes is a really selfless act – that it’s an act of love,” says Libby.

“If you do let people know what you want, you’re actually doing them a huge favour and not leaving them guessing while they are mourning”.


As a funeral director herself, she has seen a huge difference between families who know what their loved one wanted, “they feel empowered and really special and proud that they could implement their wishes” versus the ones who were more unprepared, “these people are left guessing and hoping like mad that they get it right”.  

There are often these ironic situations where the people who are dying will say “don’t talk to my children about this, it will upset them” while the children will say “don’t talk to mum/dad, it will upset them”. And in actuality everyone does want to talk about it.

It’s more common than you think, with doctors often reporting this and finding that they are caught in the middle.

NDAN have resources to support people, research that has proven that if you want to die at home that needs support and a “network”.

According to NDAN, and a research done by the University of Western Sydney,  a “network” needs around 16-20 people. These do not include professional medical assistance, these people are those who help with taking care of the house, drop off food, helping with caring for the family, caring for the garden and pets, driving them to doctors appointments.

Libby says that NDAN have a clear goal: “to get the community talking, build capacity in communities to know what to do when someone is dying”.

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