The Big Conversation

How do you start a conversation about death and dying?

As the nation prepares for The Big Conversation this month, Sarah Tully speaks to Hasina Zaman from Compassionate Funerals in Aldersbrook.

We all plan events throughout our lives. Parties, christenings, weddings and holidays are high on the agenda, but funerals and dying with dignity rarely make the list. Yet these are events that we will all participate in at some point, so surely we should have a say in how we want them to happen?

Some of us have vague thoughts about how we would like to be treated at the end of our lives and what happens after we pass away: ashes scattered at the seaside; a special poem read out by a friend; arriving in a VW Camper Van hearse; everyone wearing yellow at the service; and donating our organs. However, if we don't vocalise these wishes they will remain unheard and be potentially unfulfilled by a grieving family.

So what practical steps can we take? Hasina Zaman from Compassionate Funerals has been working with local communities to help answer this question. "Talking about dying may not be easy at first but it is a necessary conversation," says Hasina. "If your family knows your wishes it makes organising a funeral a lot easier – grief can be so overwhelming that even a list of music to play or instructions for a burial can really help."

Dying Matters also wants us to have these conversations earlier. This initiative aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make end-of-life plans. The Big Conversation is their week-long nationwide event to do just that. Between 9 and 15 May you can take part in local events or simply start up your own conversation with family and friends. If it seems too intimate to talk to a family member, then a solicitor or funeral director can record your wishes without judgement or criticism.

If these conversations can happen when in relatively good health, then death and dying can seem more of an abstract concept and perhaps easier to talk about. However, if an illness is present, then it may be incredibly difficult.

"One woman contacted us directly before she died," continued Hasina. "We were able to talk through her needs so that she was confident everything would be in place for her family when the time came. It was a privilege to work with her in this way."

So be brave and share your wishes. Invite someone over, put the kettle on and just begin. Don't be scared of saying the wrong thing. Take it slowly and give yourself permission to have a laugh if that helps. It's a big conversation that you won't regret.

Compassionate Funerals – located at 89 Aldersbrook Road – are hosting their own Big Conversation Food Festival on 13 May from 7pm to 10pm – call 020 8616 4240. For more information on Dying Matters, call 0800 021 4466

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